§ The Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Mark Carlisle)
I beg to move,That the following provisions shall apply to the remaining Proceedings on the Bill: —
1.— (1) Subject to sub-paragraph (2) below, the Standing Committee to which the Bill is allocated shall report the Bill to the House on or before 4th February 1980.
(2) Proceedings on the Bill at a sitting of the Standing Committee on the said 4th February may continue until 11 pm whether or not the House is adjourned before that time and if the House is adjourned before those proceedings have been brought to a conclusion the Standing Committee shall report the Bill to the House on 5th February 1980.
§ Report and Third Reading
2.—(1) The Proceedings on Consideration and Third Reading of the Bill shall be completed in two allotted days and shall be brought to a conclusion two hours after Ten o'clock on the second of those days; and for the purposes of Standing Order No. 43 (Business Committee) this Order shall be taken to allot to the Proceedings on Consideration such part of those days as the Resolution of the Business Committee may determine.
(2) The Business Committee shall report to the House their resolutions as to the Proceedings on Consideration of the Bill, and as to the allocation of time between those Proceedings and Proceedings on Third Reading, not later than the fourth day on which the House sits after the day on which the Chairman of the Standing Committee reports the Bill to the House.
(3) The resolutions in any report made under Standing Order No. 43 may be varied by a further report so made, whether or not within the time specified in sub-paragraph (2) above, and whether or not the resolutions have been agreed to by the House.
(4) The Resolutions of the Business Committee may include alterations in the order in which proceedings on Consideration of the Bill are taken.
§ Procedure in Standing Committee
3.—(1) At a Sitting of the Standing Committee at which any Proceedings on the Bill are to be brought to a conclusion uider a Resolution of the Business Sub-Committee the Chairman shall not adjourn the Committee under any Order relating to the sittings of the Committee until the Proceedings have been brought to a conclusion.
(2) No Motion shall be moved in the Standing Committee relating to the sitting of the
Committee except by a Member of the Government, and the Chairman shall permit a brief explanatory statement from the Member who moves, and from a Member who opposes, the Motion, and shall then put the Question thereon.
4. No Motion shall be moved to postpone any Clause, Schedule, new Clause or new Schedule but the resolutions of the Business Sub-Committee may include alterations in the order in which Clauses, Schedules, new Clauses and new Schedules are to be taken in the Standing Committee.
§ Conclusion of Proceedings in Committee
§ 5. On the conclusion of the Proceedings in any Committee on the Bill the Chairman shall report the Bill to the House without putting any Question.
§ Dilatory motions
§ 6. No dilatory Motion with respect to, or in the course of, Proceedings on the Bill shall be moved in the Standing Committee or on an allotted day except by a Member of the Government, and the Question on any such Motion shall be put forthwith.
§ Extra time on allotted days
7.—(1) On an allotted day paragraph (1) of Standing Order No. 3 (Exempted business) shall apply to the Proceedings on the Bill for two hours after Ten o'clock.
(2) Any period during which Proceedings on the Bill may be proceeded with after Ten o'clock under paragraph (7) of Standing Order No. 9 (Adjournment on specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration) shall be in addition to the said period of two hours.
(3) If an allotted day is one to which a Motion for the adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 9 stands over from an earlier day, a period of time equal to the duration of the Proceedings upon that Motion shall be added to the said period of two hours.
§ Private business
§ 8. Any private business which has been set down for consideration at Seven o'clock on an allotted day shall, instead of being considered as provided by Standing Orders, be considered at the conclusion of the Proceedings on the Bill on that day, and paragraph (1) of Standing Order No. 3 (Exempted business) shall apply to the private business for a period of three hours from the conclusion of the Proceedings on the Bill or, if those Proceedings are concluded before Ten o'clock, for a period equal to the time elapsing between Seven o'clock and the conclusion of those Proceedings.
§ Conclusion of Proceedings
§ 9.—(1) For the purpose of bringing to a conclusion any Proceedings which are to be brought to a conclusion at a time appointed by this Order or a Resolution of the Business Committee or the Business Sub-Committee and which have not previously been brought to a conclusion, the Chairman or Mr. Speaker shall 1209 forthwith put the following Questions (but no others), that is to say—
- (a) any Question already proposed from the Chair;
- (b) any Question necessary to bring to a decision a Question so proposed (including in the case of a new Clause or new Schedule which has been read a second time, the Question that the Clause or Schedule be added to the Bill);
- (c) the Question on any amendment or Motion standing on the Order Paper in the name of any Member, if that amendment or Motion is moved by a Member of the Government;
- (d) any other Question necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded;
§ (2) Proceedings under sub-paragraph (1) above shall not be interrupted under any Standing Order relating to the sittings of the House.
§ (3) If an allotted day is one on which a Motion for the adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 9 (Adjournment on specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration) would, apart from this Order, stand over to Seven o'clock—
- (a) that Motion shall stand over until the conclusion of any Proceedings on the Bill which, under this Order or a resolution of the Business Committee, are to be brought to a conclusion at or before that time;
- (b) the bringing to a conclusion of any Proceedings on the Bill which, under this Order or a Resolution of the Business Committee, are to be brought to a conclusion after that time shall be postponed for a period equal to the duration of the Proceedings on that Motion.
§ (4) If an allotted day is one to which a Motion for the adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 9 stands over from an earlier day, the bringing to a conclusion of any Proceedings on the Bill which, under this Order or a Resolution of the Business Committee, are to be brought to a conclusion on that day shall be postponed for a period equal to the duration of the Proceedings on that Motion.
§ Supplemental orders
10.—(1) The Proceedings on any Motion moved in the House by a Member of the Government for varying or supplementing the provisions of this Order (including anything which might have been the subject of a report of the Business Committee or Business Sub-Committee) shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion one hour after they have been commenced, and paragraph (1) of Standing Order No. 3 (Exempted business) shall apply to the Proceedings.
(2) If on an allotted day on which any Proceedings on the Bill are to be brought to a conclusion at a time appointed by this Order or a Resolution of the Business Committee the
House is adjourned, or the sitting is suspended, before that time no notice shall be required of a Motion moved at the next sitting by a Member of the Government for varying or supplementing the provisions of this Order.
§ 11. Nothing in this Order or a Resolution of the Business Committee or Business Sub-Committee shall—
- (a) prevent any proceedings to which the Order or Resolution applies from being taken or completed earlier than is required by the Order or Resolution, or
- (b) prevent any business (whether on the Bill or not) from being proceeded with on any day after the completion of all such Proceedings on the Bill as are to be taken on that day.
12.—(1) References in this Order to Proceedings on Consideration or Proceedings on Third Reading include references to Proceedings, at those stages respectively, for, on or in consequence of, re-committal.
(2) On an allotted day no debate shall be permitted on any Motion to re-commit the Bill (whether as a whole or otherwise), and Mr. Speaker shall put forthwith any Question necessary to dispose of the Motion, including the Question on any amendment moved to the Question.
13. In this Order—
allotted day" means any day (other than a Friday) on which the Bill is put down as the first Government Order of the Day provided that a Motion for allotting time to the Proceedings on the Bill to be taken on that day either has been agreed on a previous day, or is set down for consideration on that day;
the Bill" means the Education (No. 2) Bill;
Resolution of the Business Sub-Committee" means a Resolution of the Business Sub-Committee as agreed to by the Standing Committee;
Resolution of the Business Committee" means a Resolution of the Business Committee as agreed to by the House.
§ Any debate on a timetable motion invariably causes a good deal of indignation from the Opposition when it is debated on the Floor of the House. That indignation is usually found to be largely synthetic and totally unjustified. I am bound to say that, in so far as Labour Members may attempt to raise any indignation this evening, they could not find an occasion upon which it would be more synthetic or unjustified. Indeed, the absence of Opposition Members supports the need for tonight's motion.
§ The Bill has already been in Committee for about 82 hours. It was clear 1211 that, from the outset, the Opposition were determined to get a timetable motion on the Bill. They have brought the motion on themselves. The hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) appears to look upon the achievement of the guillotine measure as a form of virility symbol. The real reason is that, having allowed the first Education Bill to go through with reasonable debate, he was so attacked by many of his hon. Friends, that he has had to show his mettle to his friends on the Left wing on this occasion.
§ I believe, as I shall show, that from the outset of the Committee stage the hon. Member for Bedwellty was determined to have a guillotine debate. He believed that it would give him an opportunity to make some great, flamboyant and histrionic speech instead of bothering himself about any detailed discussion of the Bill.
§ Mr. Carlisle
I shall give way in a moment. I do not dispute that this is an important Bill. Equally, as far as the Government are concerned, it is an urgent Bill. That is why the Bill was introduced in October. That is why it had its Second Reading on 5 November that is why it was the first Bill to go into Committee at the end of the Summer Recess.
§ Mr. Carlisle
There is no doubt that, given reasonable speed, there is ample time for the Bill to have a proper Committee stage, without resort to a timetable motion.
§ Mr. Beith
The Secretary of State has talked about flamboyant speeches and synthetic indignation. The Leader of the House, who was formerly a spokesman on education when the Conservative Party was in Opposition, tabled 103 new clauses to the Labour Government's Education Bill. Would he make the same comment about those actions?
§ Mr. Carlisle
I am bound to confess—if my right hon. Friend the Leader of 1212 the House will forgive me—that I do not normally read his speeches at a later stage or use them for such purposes. However, I suspect that we shall get, as in all timetable motions, a considerable degree of synthetic indignation tonight.
The Bill went into Committee, after Second Reading on 5 November, and it has been given ample time to complete its Committee stage. The hon. Member for Bedwellty has a record as regards timetable motions. I have consulted the record. While speaking on proceedings in the Petroleum and Submarine Pipelines Bill in 1975, he said:Our debates on guillotine motions usually arise as a consequence of parliamentary mischief, either by a contemptuous Government…or by a verbose Opposition."—[Official Report, 7 July 1975; Vol. 895, c. 119.]There is no doubt that this guillotine motion is the result of a verbose Opposition.
The Bill contains 37 clauses. Some of those clauses are controversial. I concede that some of them are extremely controversial. However, many of them are not controversial and are based on the previous Labour Government's Bill of 1978. Consequently, many of those clauses were debated at that time.
The Bill has already been in Committee for some 82 hours. When my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House announced the intention to move the timetable motion, the Committee had reached clause 17. The proposals that I shall outline shortly will allow the Committee—in all—over 100 hours on the Bill. The Education Act 1944—probably the cornerstone of educational legislation in Britain since that time—had 120 clauses and eight schedules, yet it went through the whole of its Committee stage on the Floor of the House in 14 sittings. Everyone had an opportunity to speak in the course of those 14 sittings. That shows the length of time that has been taken unnecessarily on the Bill.
§ Mr. Nigel Spearing (New ham, South)
Does the Secretary of State recognise that whilst the Education Act 1944 was passed by the great majority of the then Tory Government, the present Government are now busy tearing up the same Act? That is why the Bill has taken up so much time.
§ Mr. Carlisle
I realise that we now have a majority of over 50 hon. Members. We therefore have a responsibility to get our legislation through. [HON. MEMBERS: "Ah."] During the Committee stage, the Opposition have not been at all interested in debating individual clauses.
§ Mr. Carlisle
I shall prove it. Much time has been taken up on totally different issues. Over two full sittings were taken up in debating matters of procedure before the debate on clause 1 could start. A sittings motion debate took four hours. A motion was moved by the Minister for the convenience of the Committee concerning the order in which matters should be considered. That motion took an additional one hour and ten minutes. Five hours and ten minutes elapsed before a word of debate was heard on any part of the Bill.
Six hours were taken up in general debate on points of order. I concede that I asked for this to be checked for me, but the Chairman of the Committee intervened on 48 separate occasions during the Committee stage. He had to call Opposition hon. Members to order and point out that their debates on those points of order were irrelevant to the issues under discussion.
On 15 January the Opposition took up one and half sittings—three hours and 40 minutes—on a point of order that was totally irrelevant. The point of order concerned whether the Department of the Environment should issue a directive to local authorities allowing them to speak and vote on matters involving school meals and school transport. I accept the importance of that issue. However, if it had any relevance to the Bill, it would have concerned the clauses that dealt with transport and meals. As it was, it took up one and a half sittings which should have been devoted to the assisted places scheme. Within half an hour of those points of order being raised, the Minister made it clear that he would make a statement to the Committee at the earliest opportunity.
Finally, as regards the reason for this debate, I shall use one other example. 1214 Clause 1 is a simple clause. It deals withthe change of nomenclature".That simply means changing the names of the members of governing bodies of primary schools from "managers" to "governors". It is totally uncontentious. The clause is identical in wording to the previous Labour Government's clause in the 1978 Bill.
On that occasion the whole clause went through in five minutes. On this occasion it took four hours and 30 minutes to make that single change. The hon. Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett) was a member of the Committee on both occasions. However, whereas he did not feel it necessary to intervene on the first occasion, he found it necessary to make a speech of one hour and 45 minutes on this occasion. Whereas in the 1978 Bill—in similar circumstances—clause 2 was reached in 10 minutes—
§ Mr. Martin Flannery (Sheffield, Hillsborough)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The hon. Member for Preston, North (Mr. Atkins) called my hon. Friend a "Trotskyist". Will he please withdraw that remark?
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bryant Godman Irvine)
Order. Nothing has been heard at this end of the Chamber.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Even if the word had been heard at this end of the Chamber, it would not have been unparliamentary.
§ Mr. Carlisle
Whereas clause 2 of the 1978 Bill was reached within 10 minutes of the Committee sitting, the same clause in this Bill took nine and a half hours to be reached. The reason is simple. We did not resort to elaborate points of order or long-winded speeches on sittings motions during the 1978 Bill.
Finally, regarding the claim of the hon. Member for Bedwellty that a timetable motion is caused by a contemptuous Government or a verbose Opposition, may I remind him about the length of his speeches. Fifteen Opposition speeches have each lasted for longer than 45 minutes. Six of them were by the hon. Member for Bedwellty and two by his hon. Friend the hon. Member for Bolton, West 1215 (Mrs. Taylor). Although I appreciate that the hon. Member for Bedwellty enjoys the sound of his own voice, I believe that he is somewhat overdoing his self-enjoyment on this occasion.
During proceedings on the 1978 Bill, which is similar to this Bill in many respects, we reached clause 22 in 45 hours. After 82 hours on this Bill we have just reached clause 22.
I now turn to the need for the motion. The requirement for the Bill is clear. If local education authorities are to achieve the savings that we desire in the coming financial year, the provisions covering meals and transport should be on the statute book before the beginning of the summer term.
Although it may be a matter of contention, the Government are committed to reductions in educational expenditure in the year 1980–81. That was stated in our White Paper and in the rate support grant proposals. We are looking for reductions of £280 million against the equivalent expenditure in 1978–79, amounting to 3½ per cent. We are anxious that those savings should not be made, as far as possible, at the expense of the quality of education. We believe that over £200 million can and should be found out of the present subsidies for meals, milk and transport. It is necessary that local authorities should be free to charge for transport. Everyone accepts that the present situation is illogical. The Bill proposes that freedom, subject to the necessary safeguards for those on supplementary benefit or family income supplement.
§ Mrs. Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)
Although the Government are committed to giving the local authorities power in that area, does my right hon. and learned Friend accept that there is considerable anxiety in country areas? My amendment to clause 23 suggests thatThe maximum charge of the levy for school transport should not exceed the cost of public transport for 'walking distance'.If such an amendment were accepted, it would relieve a great deal of that anxiety.
§ Mr. Carlisle
I am fully aware that there is a great deal of concern. It is perhaps a pity that so much time has been taken up with less relevant issues in the Bill. I shall certainly consider my hon. Friend's point.
§ Mr. Robert C. Brown (Newcastle upon Tyne, West)
I am not accusing the Secretary of State personally, but is he aware of the cavalier manner in which his fellow Ministers have handled the objections of many thousands of Catholics in the diocese of the Bishop of Hexham and Newcastle? I sent his Department the first tranche of about 100 letters, and the Minister of State in another place replied with only one letter, and that was almost a circular. She ignored the letter of the Lord Bishop.
§ Mr. Carlisle
I believe that the hon. Gentleman is aware that I have seen the Right Reverend Bishop and had a long discussion with him, and I believe that he will accept that I have shown him every courtesy in arranging to meet him when I was in that area.
For Committee stage of the Bill the Opposition were presented with notes on clauses to assist them in their study of the effects of the Bill and with any document that came out of my Department. It cannot be suggested that my hon. Friends rode roughshod over the Committee.
§ Mr. David Ennals (Norwich, North)
Following the intervention of the hon. Member for Lancaster (Mrs. Kellett-Bowman), may I ask whether the right hon. and learned Gentleman realises that the measures that are of the greatest concern to rural areas will be least debated as a result of the motion? Is he aware that in Norfolk there is deep feeling on the issue and that the motion is riding roughshod over our concerns?
§ Mr. Carlisle
I recognise that these issues will be less debated than they would have been had the Opposition not chosen to spend a great number of hours on points of order and sittings motions. However, I am satisfied that the time provided by the motion is adequate for the purpose.
It is also necessary that, before the beginning of the summer term, local authorities should have wider freedom to provide such meals and refreshments as they consider appropriate and be free to charge what they think appropriate. In that way we believe that some £220 million of the £280 million saving provided for in the rate support grant can be achieved.
1217 Local authorities should be able to introduce these measures by the beginning of the summer term, and they should be able to plan on that basis. If local education authorities are not empowered to introduce arrangements designed to bring about those savings from the beginning of the summer term, some of them may find that they are no longer able to provide transport. They will also be forced at very short notice to take other action on general education expenditure that is bound to impinge much more directly on education in the classroom.
On Second Reading the hon. Member for Bedwellty, quite unintentionally, paid me a compliment. He said:If Governments so organise affairs as to maintain a proper relationship between reductions in the birth rate and falls in school rolls, and simultaneously make reductions to their commitments to education of a comparable nature and in proportion, that is good husbandry. However, when they do it in excess of the reduction in the number of children seeking school places, that is an act of vandalism".—[Official Report, 5 November 1979; Vol. 972, c. 56.]Our proposals for a reduction in expenditure for the year 1980–81 compared to the year 1978–79 amount to 3½ per cent. at a time when the pupil population has fallen by 4.7 per cent. On the hon. Gentleman's own test, I stand convicted of his offence of good husbandry.
§ Mr. Neil Kinnock (Bedwellty)
Setting aside the fact that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is engaging in more than his usual share of misrepresentation, may I ask whether the figures that he has given include or exclude the settlement that will be made over teachers' pay? Has he estimated what difference that will make to the effective cut that he is making in the finance available to local education authorities?
§ Mr. Carlisle
In the rate support grant, as well as allowing for 13 per cent. year-on-year inflation in wages and non-wage costs, we have also allowed for what we consider to be our best estimate of the likely, reasonable effect of the Clegg award. If hon. Members think it will be half of what is expected, it is doubtful that they know even the amount of the claim. If we achieve what we want and savings are made in the ways that we are asking local authorities to consider, it will mean not 3½ per cent. but 1218 merely 1 per cent. of provision out of the classroom at a time of falling population. By deliberately delaying the Bill, the Opposition are putting at risk the jobs of teachers and risking damage to the standard of education in the classroom.
The slow progress of the Bill is putting the quality of education for some children seriously at risk and threatening serious disruption to local education authorities in terms of financial planning and practical preparation in the introduction of new arrangements. We are, therefore, asking the House to pass this motion, which requires the Committee to conclude its proceedings on 4 February. We believe that within that period it will be possible for the Committee to sit often enough and long enough to give adequate consideration to the remaining clauses of the Bill.
I need hardly say that if the Opposition had chosen to make more reasonable progress on some of the earlier clauses we would not be bringing forward this motion and some clauses of immediate political interest might have received fuller consideration than is now likely. I still believe that the Committee will be able to do justice to the remainder of the Bill in the time available and that the two days allocated for Report and Third Reading will give adequate time on the Floor of the House.
We have left decisions about the sittings of the Committee entirely to the Business Sub-Committee. I am sure that this accords with the wishes of the House. Beyond that, I need not refer in detail to the terms of the motion. It follows, in significant respects, the precedents in respect of timetable motions that have been established in recent years, not least by the previous Administration.
Governments have the right and the duty to get their legislation through the House and to oppose any attempt aimed at frustrating them in that aim. The provisions in the Bill—some, I concede, controversial—are in accordance with the commitments we made in our manifesto. The Opposition have made clear that they are prepared to use any tactics to frustrate the Government getting their legislation. The need to get it becomes more necessary when its achievement, in necessary time, is part of the economic strategy of the Government and when failure to 1219 do so will rebound to the detriment of standards of education. I believe that this is a fair and reasonable measure. I commend it to the House.
§ Mr. Neil Kinnock (Bedwellty)
I have been wondering since 3 May what particular talent equipped the right hon. and learned Gentleman for the post of Secretary of State for Education. It has taken me until tonight to discover that he has precisely that aura of bored sophistication required of members of the Cabinet who have the duty to respond to guillotine motions. The right hon. and learned Gentleman acquitted himself very well. He has all the attributes necessary to fulfil that task. It is the velvet glove task of the Government. The right hon. and learned Gentleman, if nothing else, is a wet velvet glove. Consequently, we have had it smote across our face. It is more or less what we expected.
What we did not expect was the great inaccuracy of the Minister's understanding of what has been happening in Committee. It is, I suppose, the kind of misunderstanding that can be expected from an absentee landlord. The right hon. and learned Gentleman has made no visit to the Committee. His presence has been totally unfelt by the Committee. We even adjusted our sittings, without any opposition from the Opposition Front Bench, to ensure that Thursday mornings, at least initially, were not sitting days, so that the Secretary of State should not be distracted by his Cabinet duties and could attend our Committee at other times. Unfortunately, he was not able to take advantage of that opportunity. That was a matter of considerable regret to us.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman has also disclosed another side to his character. He accused me of trying to maintain our activities in Committee as a virility symbol. I thought that he intended to draw the allusion—it would have been totally erroneous and synthetic—that this was to be mocked, that it was an over-performance and a misuse of the function that I had been allocated on the Front Bench. But he did not. It emerged that he was complaining about the virility of the Opposition on this Bill. His comparison with the 1978 Bill exposes the inadequacy of opposition on that Bill and the way that the Opposition, at that time, were too tired, lazy or misinformed 1220 to fulfil at least their parliamentary duties of scrutiny. It could have been impotence. I realise, however, that the Opposition on that occasion were led by the right hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas). He is anything but impotent. Consequently, we acquit the Opposition of that charge.
We can only conclude that it is a matter of complaint. The right hon. and learned Gentleman accuses me of enjoying my own voice. [Interruption.] I see that I am in the majority in that enjoyment. Even if that were the case, I wonder whether the enjoyment and dependence upon the sound of my own voice is as extensive as the right hon. and learned Gentleman's dependence on his speech-writer. Once again, the author and the sponsor of the Bill, in the course of a guillotine debate that is supposed to rouse defensive passions, if not actual vengeance, on the Government side, had to rely entirely on the close typescript of what had been prepared for him. That is most unfortunate. I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman, if he accuses me of enjoying the sound of my own melodic, Welsh tones, will acknowledge the charge that as the Cabinet Minister in charge of the Bill, at least in title if not in practical fact in the slogging hard work in Committee, it is about time he started stringing together his own words.
§ Mr. Mark Carlisle
This is a total irrelevance. It should be made clear that at 4.30 pm today the hon. Gentleman and I knew that we were opening the debate. I can assure him that the notes from which I was speaking were all handwritten.
§ Mr. Kinnock
I see that I have scored a bull. I could inquire "Whose hand?" I shall not, however, go into that aspect. It might invite me into inquiries about whose hand lies behind not so much the right hon. and learned Gentleman's speech as the Bill that he and his hon. Friends have been proposing.
§ Mr. Kinnock
I would give way to the hon. Lady, but time presses. Several of my hon. Friends wish to make contributions. I do not wish to attract the criticism of the right hon. and learned Gentleman for any extended contribution. He 1221 quoted from my speech on the guillotine on the Petroleum and Submarine Pipe-lines Bill some years ago. If he had taken the trouble to read further, he would have seen that what I was proposing, together with many of his hon. Friends, was a constitutional change in our consideration. If he or his right hon. Friend the Leader of the House wishes to give time to these matters and to make a proposition, he will find enthusiastic encouragement from me.
But, given the system that exists, we have seen the Government using that system specifically for the purpose that the Secretary of State set out and showing contempt towards the House. The right hon. and learned Gentleman is using the strength of the majority effectively to suppress and telescope important considerations that should be taking place on the Bill.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman made several mistakes of fact in the course of his description of the way in which we have conducted ourselves in Committee. He said that we debated the sittings motion for four hours. That is not so. The reason why we debated the motion to sit on Tuesday for five hours was that at the beginning of the second sitting of the Committee the hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee) moved exactly the same sittings motion as that moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall). That caused the extension of the debate.
The Secretary of State says that he wanted to curtail that debate, but he must have known from reading the proceedings of the Committee that we would have been ready to move on to clause 1 within five minutes had he condescended to make himself available in the Committee for questioning. His absence led to the extension of the debate. That sittings motion was not only proposed by a Conservative Member; it was carried with the votes of Conservatives. Therefore, I hope that the Secretary of State will acquit us of any unwarranted delay on that score.
After we had been poking, prodding and teasing for some time, we got an admission from the Government, in the form of the Under-Secretary, that they 1222 had dropped an almighty and anti-democratic clanger in refusing, up to that point, to give a general dispensation to parent councillors to discuss the important matters of school meals and transport. The Under-Secretary told us that he realised that this was a matter of general concern and he promised to look into it and either make a statement or write to hon. Members about the position.
We all knew that the Under-Secretary was concerned. We instinctively understood that with his knowledge of education he might want to make a concession, but we did not understand why the Secretary of State for the Environment should be forthcoming, especially in view of his attitudes on that and other matters affecting local councils. Therefore, it was necessary for us to do our duty, not just in the context of this Bill but in the context of advancing the democratic rights of both the councillors involved and the people who elected them to become part of local education authorities. If the Secretary of State intends to comment on that matter, he should congratulate my hon. Friends on getting the undertaking from the Under-Secretary and eventually from the mountain top of the Department of the Environment, allowing councillors to fulfil their responsibilities to constituents.
As for inhibiting or trying to frustrate the Government, that is absolutely not true. We have co-operated on all the matters of sitting from the outset. On several occasions we have repeatedly asked for the extension of sittings. We have had only one all-night sitting. We have objected only to the ridiculous contortions of the Government in sitting on a Wednesday and sitting between 4 pm and midnight on Monday. Such is the panic of the Government in trying to bulldoze their legislation through the Committee. That has been done in spite of the co-operation of and offers from Labour Members. In the true tradition of the Labour Party, we have been prepared to extend sittings and to be here for the duration of the debates. I understand that it was restlessness on the Conservative Back Benches and the refusal to sit mutely for additional hours that led to our rising at 11 pm and 11.30 pm instead of going on and making progress, as we had demanded.
1223 The Government are making this guillotine debate an opportunity to try to secure their business. They are doing so with unusual alacrity. Generally the guillotine season is somewhat later in the year. The right hon. and learned Gentleman really cannot try to impose on us the responsibility that he must bear for trying to bring about cuts policies in such time as to enable local education authorities and others to make those cuts. He introduced a Bill in November and expected the whole Committee to co-operate with the conspiracy in which he is engaged against standards of living and standards of care in this country. The last thing that we were elected to do is to co-operate in that development, and we refuse to do so.
Of course, this is the first of many guillotines. There will be guillotines on the Housing Bill, the Social Security Bill, the Transport Bill and the Local Government, Planning and Land Bill. In fact, under this Government, such is their haste, panic and frenzy to bring about their cuts, we shall have government by guillotine for the next five or six months. That is contrary to the best traditions that I had hoped the Government would uphold. Of all those guillotines, none will be as precipitate, panicky or unnecessary as this one. It seems to be in order to shoulder-charge the House of Commons into meeting the cuts deadline.
The hon. Member for Lancaster (Mrs. Kellett-Bowman) realises what it is all about. She has tabled an amendment to our Committee proceedings, and we hope that further opportunity will be found to debate it. For a considerable period she has put herself forward as a "flat-rater" on fares. That contrasts with her right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State, who is a flat-earther on these matters. However, I hope that the hon. Lady realises that the reason why we shall discuss her amendment in such cramped circumstances is the Government's guillotine. It is not the responsibility of the Opposition.
I should like to draw attention to the productivity and time-keeping of our Committee. We have sat for nearly 90 hours, 30 of which have been spent on clauses covering parental rights and parental choice—matters of precious importance to the Secretary of State. We 1224 spent a great deal of time talking about the appeals procedure, which is being introduced in the face of universal opposition from everyone in local government—those who will be most affected by its provisions and by the outrageous expense that will be incurred as a consequence of the system. We have spent time discussing school closures and the provisions uprooting section 13 of the Education Act 1944, and we have given time to the novel and wholly destructive proposal to publish examination results as a means of making a judgment between schools.
In that 30 hours, 16 clauses and three schedules were discussed. That is an average of one and a half hours for each item. The right hon. and learned Gentleman has a cheek to accuse us of delay when the average time taken over such important new items was only one and a half hours.
Then we came to clause 17. I understand why the right hon. and learned Gentleman is so resentful of the time that we have taken on this. He shakes his head. Why did he make the speech that he has just made if he is not resentful about our spending a considerable time on clause 17? He knows that the whole teaching trade union movement, the Society of Education Officers and many people in the independent sector, as well as substantial parts of the Conservative Party, both in Parliament and in local government, know the dangers that will arise as a consequence of the implementation of the scheme in clause 17. As a result of that scheme, fractures will occur in both our primary and secondary school systems.
Had the right hon. and learned Gentleman provided us with regulations and specified his exact intentions under clauses 17 and 18, we could have had the technical debates and abbreviated our discussions. We would have had some meat to gnaw. But the Under-Secretary was able to offer us only the bare bones. It was by continual probing and inquiry, the introduction of examples and the reading of letters that we were able to get certain details about the assisted places scheme.
We had to take a long time[...] the Under-Secretary was[...] petent or coy. We[...]him the details[...] 1225 to try to discover them by tortuous probing and questioning. If any people are responsible for the time that we have taken on clause 17, it must be the Government, the Department of Education and Science and the Secretary of State.
We read in The Times Educational Supplement last Friday and in The Guardian on Saturday that after all there is to be no assisted places scheme. Of course, the Minister could have shortened our deliberations by coming to that conclusion at a much earlier date. It would have brought cheers from my hon. Friend and from all sections of educational opinion across party lines.
The Government must acquit us of deliberately or fecklessly wasting time on the Bill. Of course, we have had to concern ourselves with the Under-Secretary himself. I have a great deal of sympathy for him because he was left naked on some of these issues. It was difficult for him. He had to present a bland, unargued and ill-thought-out series of propositions.
The incompetence was not attributable to the Under-Secretary; it is already in the Bill. That meant that he had to bear extensive questioning, though he understood the reasons for that. We also took little detours during our discussions in which the hon. Gentleman spoke of abstract art and the co-operative movement in Lancashire. There were the inevitable touches that the Under-Secretary always brings to the Committee stage.
We have for the first time in parliamentary history had the experience of a filibustering Minister. I do not mind that. The hon. Gentleman is a past-master at it. I have been amazed at his performance. I have sat aghast in admiration at his performance in Opposition. I would not wish to follow his example. I would studiously avoid it, but at the same time I cannot help admire the hon. Gentleman's capacity, both in Government and in Opposition, for extensive comment and irrelevant allusion. I have also admired his wide knowledge of the education system and his ability to allude to the [...]He is the epic Hovis advertisement. [...]able of drawing such allusions [...]Indeed, if we did not know [...]have thought that 1226 he was living in the past. We hope that that is not the case.
Despite the interruptions, prolongations and excursions from the Bill, we cannot acquit the Government of speeding it up. We can acquit the Under-Secretary, because it has been his duty. We can certainly find the whole Back Bench strength of the Government "Not guilty".
§ Mr. Beith
I trust that what the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) said does not imply that the Under-Secretary was anything but helpful in Committee. On many occasions his interventions during our discussion were made because he recognised that he was discovering difficulties in the Bill because of the careful debate in Committee. Time and time again he acknowledged that points that arose had been useful and necessary.
§ Mr. Kinnock
Indeed he did. The Under-Secretary did not regard the Committee stage as something that filled in time between Second Reading and the Royal signature. He recognised that it was a period for scrutiny and he responded to that requirement. The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) was right. That was always the approach of the Under-Secretary. We had one long—though not too long—contribution in Committee from the hon. Member for Bridlington (Mr. Townend) that was positively therapeutic. It was almost a matter of interior decoration, because the hon. Gentleman got into such a state that there was a danger of living flesh and blood exploding on the panelled ceiling of the Committee Room. It might have come to that had the hon. Gentleman not been allowed to make his very useful speech. I shall be using that speech for many years to come and I am glad that his Front Bench gave him the opportunity to make it.
The rest of the Tory Back Benchers on that Committee will have great difficulty in explaining two things to their constituents. The first is: where have they been since 13 November? Secondly, why is it that after the confusion of this Committee a new delay will occur in the writing of constituency correspondence, since that appears to be what they have been doing? In the pre-Christmas period there were instances of hon. 1227 Gentlemen not only catching up with correspondence but sending their party invitations. I do not want to call them poodles; they are definitely not poodles. They are a little like the nodding dogs in the backs of cars. Their heads shake, but they are definitely not poodles. Nodding dogs is much more like it, as their frustration becomes more and more apparent.
A couple of weeks ago I had cause to believe it of a Tory Member to whom I choose to refer, for reasons of sensitivity, as "Deep Throat", He came to me and said "Wait until the guillotines are on. Then we will get up and speak." There is not time to say who the hon. Gentleman was. Wild horses, or nodding dogs, would not drag it out of me. We have had a similar reaction from someone to whom, out of a sense of equal felicity, I must refer as "Whispering Grass", who said that even after the guillotine was imposed he might not be allowed to speak.
If ever there were a reason for the Chiltern Hundreds, that is it, because those poor newcomers—the parliamentary virgins—arrived here with the idea that they were going to participate in democracy and become part of the deliberative process. They believed that their acquaintance with the real world outside, their recent arrival and their professional qualifications equipped them to deliberate, as in the contribution of the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Green-way). I hope that they will have the opportunity at a later date to make their contributions.
We have arrived at the serious point at which the guillotine falls. We have arrived at clause 22. The guillotine falls on clauses 22, 23, 24 and 25. They are the clauses that refer to school milk, school meals and school transport in England, Scotland and Wales. They are, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman said, the most sensitive and most political clauses. Those are the words he used. Of course, they are of major political impact because they are the clauses that impose a tax on parenthood. They are the clauses that hon. Gentleman say will give freedom to local authorities. I can tell the right hon. and learned Gentleman that whatever the Tory-controlled local authorities may have wanted before 3 May, against the background of cuts and continual economic depression and the 1228 many other calls being made on their finances and priorities, they do not want it now. That is the freedom that they do not want. Hon. Gentlemen have given freedom in this Bill as the French and Belgian decolonisers gave freedom. They passed hasty legislation and then abandoned the colonies to their fate. That is what the right hon. and learned Gentleman is doing to the local authorities now.
When I speak of a tax on parenthood, I mean the extra £60 a year per child that some families will have to find for school meals. In September, local education authorities will increase the price of a school meal by up to 60p. I am talking about the £90 a year that parents will have to find to send primary children to school by bus, and the £133 a year that parents will have to find to send secondary schoolchildren to school by bus. Those are the products of the Bill and of the public expenditure cuts.
If we were to fight from now until the summer, or until next Christmas, and if that fight were to scrutinise and to expose the inconsistencies of the Bill, and to prolong our debates upon the remaining issues, upon the cutting of the pool in further education, upon the right hon. and learned Gentleman's proposals for making it possible to recover costs across school boundaries or not to recover such costs, and his proposals for further assistance to private schools in clause 27, we would merely be fulfilling our duty. That duty would not warrant a guillotine. The way in which we have done our duty so far has not warranted a guillotine. The co-operation that we have shown so far does not warrant a guillotine. It is with the greatest delight that I ask my right hon. and hon. Friends to vote against the guillotine motion.
§ Mr. Ennals
The Secretary of State referred to synthetic anger. That is a remark that he directed to the Opposition. I have seen about 1,000 people marching through the streets of Norwich to protest against the very issues that my hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) has been rehearsing. Irrespective of whether there is any synthetic anger or feeling on the Opposition Benches, the public would be extremely critical of us if we did not fight against the Government's proposals. The people despise the Government for the measures that they have introduced.
§ Mr. Kinnock
I agree entirely with my right hon. Friend. Whatever the right hon. and learned Gentleman feels about the deportment of the Opposition in this place—he is entitled to his opinion about that, and there are certain words that he has to use on an occasion such as this—it is not our anger that he has to fear. The anger that he should fear is that which he is inspiring through his policies.
Anger is mounting outside the House. The people know that their children are not being saved in the classroom as a result of the Government's public expenditure policies. They know that the tax concessions are being turned into a mockery. They know that the cuts will fall in the most direct form in discouraging them and impoverishing them. That is why the right hon. and learned Gentleman should fear their anger.
We hope that we are giving the right hon. and learned Gentleman warning of that in articulating the feelings of those outside this place. If he does not heed our warning, he will face the much more painful consequences of ignoring us when he has to face the anger of the people.
§ Mr. William van Straubenzee (Wokingham)
I am sure that I express the commiserations of the whole House when I say to the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) that seldom in the history of the House have we heard a final and splendid sentence more effectively ruined by an intervention from a colleague. I see that the hon. Gentleman takes my point. I have little doubt that later there will be some discussion on the Opposition Benches. The hon. Gentleman has my fullest understanding and sympathy. With his usual skill he did his best to recover, but the careful sentence that he had ready was absolutely and totally ruined.
In his delightful and charming speech, the hon. Gentleman gave an exhibition of the two qualities that have characterised his leadership of the Opposition in dealing with the Bill in Committee. First, the hon. Gentleman has great personal charm and wit. I do not think that there is any other hon. Member alongside whom I should rather be in the convivial places where we get together than the Hon. Gentleman. I acknowledge gratefully the endless fund of ad- 1230 mirable stories with which the hon. Gentleman has supplied me over the years, even if the audiences upon which I can deploy them are strictly limited.
That delightful and charming quality was present throughout the hon. Gentleman's speech. I acknowledge that it has been present throughout the proceedings in Committee. That has meant, among other things, that, while passions have been strong and feelings have been high, our personal relationships, on the whole, be it night or day, have remained agreeable.
The hon. Gentleman displays a remarkable strategic ineptitude. That emerged extraordinarily well in his speech. He has told the House that in controlling the Opposition team he has permitted a guillotine motion to be moved before he has discussed the most politically sensitive, in his judgment, parts of the Bill. He has conceded to the House that he has not permitted discussion on milk, meals and transport. By his own words he is undermined.
We must get the record right. The hon. Gentleman made a gracious and kindly reference to my part in the sittings motion. In Committee, Opposition Members took part in the general process of finding things to talk about. It was suggested that we should meet on Tuesdays at 4 o'clock. I strongly suspect—indeed, I know—that many Labour Members did not realise that such a motion had the effect of introducing open-ended sittings. The hon. Gentleman seems to be indicating that he did not know that. Very well, he did not realise that that was the effect of the motion.
§ Mr. Kinnock
I realised that it was open-ended. It was part of the Opposition's co-operation in getting adequate time for debate.
§ Mr. van Straubenzee
Many marks for gallantry, but the correct motion to move would have been one specifying that the Committee should sit at 4 o'clock in the afternoon and conclude its sitting at a certain hour. Instead of that, there was an open-ended commitment. The hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends were appalled when the Government accepted their proposition. That is what happened.
§ Mr. Kinnock
If the hon. Gentleman consults the Standing Orders of the 1231 House, he will discover that it is not possible to put a limitation on a motion to meet again at 4 o'clock. By definition, such motions are open-ended.
§ Mr. van Straubenzee
Exactly. Surely it was on that ground even more foolish to have made the suggestion in the first place.
We are now engaging in a ritualistic dance. I do not blame the hon. Gentleman and his team. I have taken part in such operations in my time. However, a really skilled Opposition—I have taken a junior part in this, too—will so operate that they never quite permit a Government to introduce a guillotine motion. It is fascinating to me that the hon. Gentleman is confidently assuming that there will be guillotine motions on many other Bills.
In part we are discussing a criticism of the hon. Gentleman and his team, and against that background I shall make what I hope will be considered a constructive plea. I must say—one of the few advantages of getting to the stage when one has been in the House for a respectable number of years is being able to say such things—that I am convinced that the time will come when the House will regard this sort of ritual dance—it is a ritualistic dance which ever party is in power—as an anachronism.
I remember a courageous speech on a permanent timetabling provision being made by Mr. Ted Short, now Lord Glenamara. It was the more courageous because he was the Opposition Chief Whip at the time. I acknowledge that any comment made by a member of the Government is the weaker because he is on the Government side. I can claim, and show by published letters, that I have consistently held these views in Opposition as well as in Government.
Our workings in the House depend on understandings. An example of that is the make-up of the Committee whose timetable we are discussing. The Government control the majority on the Committee of Selection. It has a Conservative Chairman and a Conservative majority. In theory, it could select only Conservative Members to serve on the Standing Committee. There would be nothing in Standing Orders to prevent that happening. It would be agin the understanding of the House, and the 1232 House would be outraged. If such a ridiculous idea were ever put forward, there would be sufficient of my hon. Friends together—if I may so arrogantly state—with myself who would not be prepared to troop through the Lobby in favour of a proposition that goes to the root of our understandings.
Is it without bounds of possibility that, in due time, we shall have a Committee broadly analogous to a Committee of Selection—a timetabling Committee of a general sort—that will meet following the agreement of the House to motions such as this? Perhaps by convention it will have a Chairman from the Opposition. Perhaps, by convention, he will be a senior Privy Councillor from the Opposition.
It would be possible for such a body to meet after the Second Reading of a Bill to consider its potence, to apply a particular judgment, to listen to all the arguments—as the Business Sub-Committee does—and to allot time to debate it. I add the proviso that it should, as the lawyers say, give liberty to apply for revision or further time if, during the course of discussions, new matter arises.
The great argument against such a proposal is that time is the only weapon of the Opposition. Tonight we are in the process, in three hours, of demonstrating how shallow is that argument. That process has been eroded over the years. A few years ago, if business stopped at 10 o'clock it was regarded as a monstrous infringement of the rights of the Opposition. Now we would regard it as astonishing if that were not to apply. No one regards it as a restriction on the Opposition.
I forecast that under one Government or another we shall have a guillotine motion which in three hours guillotines two Bills. Opposition Members know that that was not a theoretical possibility in the past. We no longer consider it a terrible argument that the Opposition would find that the principal weapon of time was being removed.
Under the scheme that I am advocating, and have advocated for so long, the Opposition would have more time. That would not be wrong. The hon. Member for Bedwellty put his finger on the matter. He did it wittily. I enjoyed the idea of myself as a nodding dog. I have been 1233 called many things in my time, but never that. I am happy enough and broad shouldered enough to take it.
There is an element of truth in what the hon. Gentleman said. He knows that when one is on the Government Benches one is not encouraged to intervene at length. The former Leader of the House, the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Foot), is smiling, knowing that in his day he imposed that ruling. That is not good for debate and examination in Committee. It would be far more healthy if we were to pass the timetable motion.
I say to both Front Benches that my ear tells me that, as a result of the last general election, we have on both sides of the House a considerable number of new Members who are fed up with the present Committee system and have been outraged by their experience.
I have had private conversations with hon. Members on both sides of the House, and therefore cannot, and will not, name names, but there are hon. Members on both sides who believe that the way in which we conduct our Committee proceedings is an outrage to good common sense and examination of legislation. We ought to listen to that intake of opinion as well as to the opinion of some of their seniors—seniors only in terms of service—because it would be as well to be ready to respond.
That is my non-contentious plea. Meanwhile, we must deal with the situation as it is, and we all know what it is. The hon. Member for Bedwellty and his hon. Friends were determined that this discussion should take place, whether it was to demonstrate a sign of virility or whatever. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman needs this debate for that purpose. Be that as it may, it was done so that there would be the scalp of a timetable motion.
When I was in Opposition, there were times when I used to plead passionately that when Governments introduced timetable motions the whole of my constituency would be alight. I went on to the doorsteps and asked my constituents "Have you seen that there has been a guillotine?" They were not in the least interested and thought that I was talking about something more physical. They 1234 were very disappointed when they discovered that it was highly procedural.
The hon. Gentleman may think he has gained some might, but I believe that when he goes to Bedwellty or anywhere else he will find that people are interested in other things. So they should be, because they expect us to get on with our business in a sensible way.
§ Mr. Ernest Armstrong (Durham, North-West)
I welcome the opportunity to follow the hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee), because at the outset of my brief speech I should like to say something about what he said. In a way, I suppose that we are all conditioned by our experience. I was a Government Whip for a long time and then an Opposition Whip. I must admit that timetable motion debates have never been my particular pastime.
The speeches are very much the same, whether one is in Government or Opposition. After six months in the Whips' office, I was in favour of a timetable for every Bill. I agree with the suggestion with regard to an all-party committee. The Government of the day have the right to get their legislation through so long as they can command a majority on the Floor of the House of Commons. The Opposition of the day have a right, and, indeed, a duty sometimes, to delay and certainly to use all the procedures of the House to ensure that adequate discussion takes place on particular legislation.
What disturbs me is that Conservative Members spend a lot of time going around the country protesting about the amount of legislation. Every Tory argues that there is too much legislation. They preached that to me in the Parliaments of 1964 and 1966 when I was a Government Whip. But I find that, now they occupy the Government Benches, they introduce more legislation than we ever did.
The truth is that in the modern, complex industrial society in which we live legislation will continue to be needed. We must be an organised society and planning is absolutely essential. Therefore, there will always be demands for legislation.
When I was a Minister and visited a local authority, the chief executive officer 1235 always began the day by saying "Minister, send no more circulars, pass no more Acts of Parliament, give us time to consolidate." By the end of the day he had given my private secretary at least 20 things that he wanted doing the day before. That is the state of affairs, and that is what leads me to argue that we in Parliament have a duty to set an example. We must ensure that reasoned argument, persuasion and deliberation on our proceedings leads to satisfactory results.
All too often, as the hon. Member for Wokingham said, the only tool of the Opposition is time. Reasoned argument should prevail. Why, with these views, am I so enthusiastic about voting against the guillotine tonight? It is because I think that the Bill is important. All hon. Members know the importance that I attach to education. We are talking about the quality of life and civilised living. In whatever context we talk about the future, I believe that education must play a key role.
The Education Act 1944 was, in a sense, a consensus Act. It is irrelevant for the Secretary of State to talk about the number of hours spent in Committee in discussing the 1978 Bill. Hours and hours, days and days, weeks and weeks were spent in conferences and in delegations discussing the 1944 Bill. There were many times when we thought that the Bill would not become law, but debate continued outside the House.
I am worried about the present timetable. I told the Secretary of State this morning that I had received four important letters concerning the provisions of the Bill. Those people who wrote to me had obviously spent some time considering their case. They asked me to meet them. I shall have to reply that the Bill will complete its Committee stage within the next few days. We must not only allow time for the Committee stage of a Bill. We must allow time for people with an interest in any legislation to make their representations.
The Bill is important. We cannot exaggerate its importance. In a way, it reverses the trend that was accepted by all hon. Members, and by the education service generally, in 1944. Since then a great deal has been said about equality of opportunity. All hon. Members believe in equality of opportunity. The purpose 1236 of the 1944 Act was to put that philosophy into practice. Labour and Conservative Members differ on the meaning of equality of opportunity. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) will agree with me that equality of opportunity is impossible unless we devote a major part of our resources to the most deprived. We cannot begin to talk about equality of opportunity without, at the same time, espousing the cause of positive discrimination.
These days we hear a great deal about young people dropping out of education. In every part of the country there are many people who have never had the opportunity of dropping in, because of home circumstances, and a number of other reasons. We know that some people have never had the opportunity of getting on the bottom rung of the ladder, never mind making progress. It is because this Bill reverses that philosophy of equality that I think it is a scandal that the guillotine has fallen.
The Secretary of State was honest enough to say that the guillotine is being used because the Bill is urgent. It is urgent in order to fulfil the Tory philosophy of cutting public expenditure. In cutting public expenditure we shall deny equality to the children of those to whom we were supposed to be opening the doors of opportunity in 1944.
The most contentious part of the 1944 Act was the settlement concerning the Church—the dual system, and so on. I have read the biography of William Temple, and I understand that reaching a final agreement was a difficult exercise. I have strong views about the dual system—about segregating children, and so on. But that is not at issue in our debate tonight, nor is it an issue in the Bill. The 1944 Act conferred upon parents the legal right to chose a denominational school. Whether we like it or not, once we have conferred that right, Parliament ought to discuss for a long time and hesitate before it upsets that right.
I notice that the Tory manifesto, in its description of its educational proposals, talks about extending the rights and responsibilities of parents. That is the great Tory aim. The Secretary of State has met, for example, the Lord Bishop of Hexham and Newcastle. No one could say that he has an axe to grind, so to speak, in finding things that are not 1237 there. Sometimes in Opposition we are accused of making political points, and so on. The Bishop is quite convinced, along with other reasonable and sensible men and women, that the provisions of the Act will prevent parents from exercising a choice that was conferred upon them by the 1944 Act.
I share that concern. I live in a county where children in non-denominational schools travel considerable distances to school, and for denominational schools the catchment areas are always much bigger than for the non-denominational schools. The Bill will deny the right of parents to exercise a choice that was given to them by this Parliament. That is a very serious issue. I hear from my hon. Friends who are on the Committee, and I know from reading the proceedings, that discussion on those important matters has not even been reached.
I regard the meals service as an integral part of the education service. I feel very strongly about this. It has a tremendous contribution to make. To suggest that we can scrap the meals service and not affect education is to misunderstand what education is about.
We could all quote things that the Leader of the House said when he was in Opposition, just as we can quote things that were said, when they were in Government, by some hon. Members who are now in Opposition. I feel that the Leader of the House has a duty and a responsibility to the House and to the country to bring forward some of the suggestions that we are making for allowing both Government and Opposition to consider in detail proposals that will have such a profound effect on our children and on the nation generally. I therefore invite my right hon. and hon. Friends to oppose the motion tonight.
§ Mr. John Farr (Harborough)
I was not lucky enough to be on the Standing Committee, but, having heard some of the exchanges, my feeling is that the 80 hours or so that members of the Committee spent in discussion must have passed very rapidly and in a highly amusing manner. That makes me even more than usually disappointed that I was not selected in this instance.
My right hon. and learned Friend said that a good deal of time had been spent 1238 in Committee in discussing trivia, and no doubt that was the case, but my reason for intervening briefly tonight is to point out to the House that there is a great deal left in the Bill that is not trivial. I hope that the timetable motion will not prevent a proper discussion of what amounts to the heart and soul of the Bill.
To many of us the clause which the Standing Committee has just begun to discuss, that relating to school meals, and the subsequent clauses relating to school transport in England, Wales, and in Scotland—clauses 23 to 25—are vital. Clause 26, which is concerned with day nurseries, is also very close to the hearts of many of us who have followed the subject with great attention for a long time.
The Bill consists of 37 clauses, followed by seven schedules. I hope Education Act, which my right hon. and the debate he will look at the Bill from the point of view of someone who, like myself, is not a member of the Standing Committee and who has some important points which he, or she, would like to raise during subsequent proceedings on the Bill.
On reading the sittings motion on page 2187 of the Order Paper, I see that we are to have the Report stage on 5 February, which is next Tuesday. That allows probably three or four more sittings of the Committee, after which time we must complete the Report stage and Third Reading within two days.
Clauses 23 to 25 are especially important. Clause 23 relates to school transport and dismantles part of the that when my right hon. Friend replies to learned Friend and myself have always thought of as the cornerstone of education in this country. Regardless of whether Committee time was wasted on trivia, adequate time must be given for this clause to be discussed, not only in Committee but in the House. I doubt whether one day spent discussing clause 23 and its implications on Report will be adequate.
I reluctantly accept clause 22 and my right hon. and learned Friend's recommendations on school meals. I have already discussed with my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State certain amendments which a number of my hon. Friends and I would like to see made to clause 23. Many of us find ourselves 1239 endeavouring to impress on my right hon. and learned Friend that there is great depth of feeling in rural areas that the Government's proposals in clause 23 are not acceptable and must be changed.
A number of us who are not members of the Standing Committee have been very patient in the expectation that sooner or later the Bill would come back to the House and we would have a chance to voice the fears expressed to us by our constituents. We have been content to let the Standing Committee continue in its own way, in the certain knowledge that we would have adequate discussion on Report, stretching, perhaps, over two or three days. Therefore, it is with a certain amount of foreboding and discomfort that we see that we are to have only one day for Report and one day for Third Reading of what is probably one of the most important Education Acts in the last 15 or 20 years.
Some of us would like to see clause 23 removed altogether.
§ Mr. Mark Carlisle
It is true that the motion refers to Report and Third Reading, but the two days provided both go to midnight. It is unlikely that the whole day will be taken on Third Reading, and, therefore, the majority of the time will be spent on Report. I should make it clear that although the motion refers to 5 February as the day on which the Bill has to be reported to the House, that does not mean that there is not an interval before Report. There will be an interval for consideration before then.
§ Mr. Farr
I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend for trying to be helpful, as he always is, but the fact remains that Report and Third Reading have to be completed in two sitting days.
I should have thought that there was a sufficient sense of unease on the Government Benches about the proposals for school transport to make it impossible, in the normal course of events, to complete the proceedings in that time.
The implications of clause 23 are extremely serious. The clause is a departure from the Conservative Education Act 1944. I can illustrate my fears best by referring to a letter that I received recently from three headmasters in my constituency who fear that as a result of clause 23 their schools, which cater for a large number of children coming into 1240 three small towns from surrounding rural areas, will suffer a rapid and considerable fall in rolls. They fear that the new freedom of choice that the Government propose will result in parents taking their children to school in, say, Leicester or Nottingham, where the parents work, rather than paying school transport costs of perhaps £100 or £200 a year for each child. Those headmasters fear that there will be a continuing drain on their school numbers through parents exercising the Government's proposed freedom of choice. The result will be a further drain on the countryside and its facilities and amenities.
Another serious consideration concerns village schools that have been closed on the undertaking that school transport to the neighbouring village would be made available without charge. There has been more than one recent case in my constituency of the closure of a village school being accepted reluctantly by parents on the understanding that adequate education would be provided at a neighbouring village six or seven miles away. Changing the rules of the game after the voluntary undertakings have been given is more than many of us are prepared to accept.
I ask my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State to bear in mind that the average wage of agricultural workers is £66.95 a week, compared with the national average of £101.90. They cannot be expected to afford up to £200 additional costs annually for each child. They are already living in disadvantaged areas where the cost of transport is high, public transport is often non-existent, the number of shops is minimal and wages are low. This further blow could be the death knell for large sections of our countryside.
§ Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)
The hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) made a courageous and forthright speech, in many parts of which he could have been describing the problems in my constituency. The fears and anxieties are the same, and it is my hope and prayer that before the Division we can make an impact on the Government, who have seemed so deaf to our pleas so far.
One way in which the hon. Member could make an impact would be to vote against the motion. Although it is possible to argue in the abstract that a 1241 guillotine may be acceptable for a Bill, even though one disagrees with some of its principles, what the hon. Member did was to point out that the motion has deficiencies. I shall refer to another that may cause problems to Conservative Members who wish to pursue amendments, perhaps even to Divisions, if the Government do not listen to the pleas that the hon. Gentleman made so eloquently.
We are dealing with a major Bill, covering many issues. It sets up a new scheme for sending to private schools pupils previously in the State system. It changes the whole pattern of school governors and school managers; it sets up an appeal system for school places; it contains all these provisions about school meals and transport; it has provisions about higher education, further education, grants for education in the Welsh language, industrial scholarships, and so on. The range is enormous. It has therefore been necessary to spend quite a lot of time discussing it.
The hon. Member for Brent, North (Dr. Boyson), who leads for the Government in Committee, has not stinted himself in taking time, and I do not for a moment criticise him for that, because he has been extremely helpful to the Committee. He has been courteous throughout and has been quick to point out that the debates that have taken place on many of the details have been necessary debates on issues that could present real problems to those concerned. When we have been delayed in our proceedings, it has usually been because there has been some quite difficult problem at stake, such as, for example, that the Government decided at the beginning not to put on the Bill any Minister with immediate responsibility for the issues in question. They put on the Bill, for example, the Ministers with responsibility for higher education and links between education and industry, who are responsible only for limited parts of the Bill. But we did not have on the Bill either the Secretary of State or his noble Friend in another place who has the main responsibility for schools.
That is as nothing to the major omission from the Committee. The Government sent us the Minister with responsibility for health in Scotland. The Min- 1242 ister responsible for education could not be found, and he is not here today. With obvious reluctance, which has marked every intervention that he has made in the Committee, the Scottish Health Minister was drafted on to the Committee. In all conscience, the Committee had to spend some time trying to demand that Ministers with the appropriate responsibilities were present at its proceedings.
I recall that when another Bill on education was the subject of a timetable motion the Leader of the House made this observation. He said in the course of his remarks something that I have quoted to him before: that there would not be a guillotine were it not for the incompetence of the Leader of the House and the Chief Whip. He said then:The Secretary of State never came any-where near the Committee on this vital Bill, to which he professes to attach so much importance. He not only excluded himself from the Committee but he never once came to the Committee room to see what his Ministers were doing.I am quoting the right hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) speaking about a previous Secretary of State.
I could borrow the whole of the speech which the right hon. Gentleman made on that occasion for this debate—I hope he would not mind; perhaps he has copyright in it—because the criticism of the Leader of the House then applies wholesale to him in this debate. And, of course, it is true that the present Secretary of State never came near the Committee.
§ Mr. Kinnock
Is not there one great difference between the current Leader of the House and any previous one? The present Leader of the House has profound religious convictions, which are respected throughout the House, as well as his strong affection for libertarianism, again respected throughout the House, and the clause in the Bill which he is now proposing to guillotine has led to the absolutely unremitting anger of the whole of the Catholic Church and others who believe that when choice is given choice should be fulfilled.
§ Mr. Beith
Frankly, I am staggered that the right hon. Gentleman is content to remain in the Government after having aroused so much anger among those with 1243 whom he has worked and toiled in the service of God for many years, and I shall refer to that again in a moment. I really want to take a wider point arising from that.
The hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee) said that as far as he was concerned this was a ritual dance, and he contributed by what he said to the prevailing cynicism about politics and politicians because he made it clear that as far as he was concerned the same speech was made in all of these circumstances, depending upon which side of the House one was on. There is no better illustration of that than that provided by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House. I thought that I could look to the speech that he made on the occasion I have referred to and to the circumstances of that speech to see in what circumstances a Conservative Government would think it right to apply a guillotine to a Bill. Clearly, it was not the circumstances that applied to that particular Bill, the 1976 Education Bill, so I looked for both the wider principles and the circumstances.
What are the wider principles? The right hon. Gentleman said:Of course, it is not the number of clauses which is important but the principles which those clauses enshrine. That is the test of the importance or unimportance of a Bill. A Bill which upsets the settlement for education laid down by the 1944 Education Act—which, whatever its limitations and imperfections, lasted for more than 30 years—and which destroys the careful balance, which has been created by every Education Act since 1870, between central Government and local authorities…is surely a major piece of legislation. Whether one supports it or abhors it, it is entitled to be thoroughly examined and painstakingly assessed and discussed by the House."—[Official Report, 20 July 1976; Vol. 915, c. 1695, 1692–3.]To what Bill could that statement be more obviously applied than this one? When we talk of the 1944 Education Act we are talking, like the right hon. Member for Durham, North-West (Mr. Armstrong), of the balance between State and voluntary schools, and between State schools and Catholic schools. There is no doubt about the view of the hierarchy in England and Wales that that balance will be destroyed by the proposals in the Bill.
§ The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Norman St. John-Stevas)
I listen to whatever the hierarchy of England and Wales says, but I am not here to represent them. That is a novel constitutional doctrine. I am here to represent my constituents. The hon. Gentleman should not use me—nor should the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) use the argument because it suits him at the moment—to put forward a ridiculous constitutional doctrine. My responsibility is to my constituents and to no one else.
§ Mr. Beith
The right hon. Gentleman is right. He has abandoned the mantle of representing Catholic opinion on this issue. We are carrying out that duty. There is no question but that he is entirely at variance with the opinion of those who send their children to Catholic schools and those in country areas. I do not quote him because he is a prominent Roman Catholic. On the contrary, I quote him because from the Opposition Front Bench he opposed a guillotine on a Bill which had constitutional implications which, if anything, may have been less far reaching than those in this Bill. Certainly they were not more far reaching than the proposals in this Bill.
Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman would not claim that the content of the Bill is the reason why there is to be a guillotine. Perhaps it is the circumstances. However, he opposed, at that time, a guillotine that was brought forward on a short Bill upon which there had been 136 hours of debate. That is far more debate than there has been on this Bill in Committee. Indeed, it was a Bill to which he had moved 103 new clauses. Far from criticising the Opposition and saying that they had taken up unnecessary time by raising unnecessary issues as he does tonight, he imported 103 new issues into the Bill. It may have been a proper thing to do. However, he cannot now claim that by scrutinising the details of what is in the Bill other hon. Members deserve to have discussion in Committee on vital matters curtailed. The right hon. Gentleman stands condemned by what he said on that occasion.
The Secretary of State said something important in his introductory remarks. Why is there this timetable motion? Why 1245 is there a sudden rush about the Bill? The right hon. and learned Gentleman said that any delay in the Bill would put children's education at risk. He said that local authorities would not be able to impose charges for school transport upon country and Catholic children. He said that they would not be in a position to make the savings that he wished to see made on school transport and meals in the current budget. By doing so, he claimed that they would force themselves to make savings in the classroom and thereby put education at risk.
What will he say to those authorities—Conservative-controlled in some cases—that have already said that they will not implement the provisions of the Bill and will not accept his advice to charge country children? Northumberland education authority has indiciated that in the coming year it will not impose a charge for school transport. Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman say to his Conservative friends in Northumberland "No, you must not do that. If you do. I will make you take teachers out of the classroom. If you do, I will make sure that you make savings in other quarters"?
What will he say to the Grampian region, which is represented on the Committee by his hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland who has responsibility for health? That authority decided—before the Committee had been sitting for a fortnight—that it would have nothing to do with the provisions of the Bill on school transport. Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman saying that his Scottish colleagues will breathe down that authority's neck to see how many teachers they have sacked instead of charging children to come to school? That is what the rush is about. The pressure is on to get savings in transport and meals as quickly a possible and to minimise the amount of discussion upon those matters.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman should not be surprised by the sort of anger that has been aroused. Indeed, the Leader of the House mentioned his constituency—he was right to do so. Many people in his constituency are concerned about the measures. The St. John Paine Roman Catholic school in Chelmsford is worried about the reductions in numbers which will result from school transport charges.
§ Mr. St. John-Stevas
I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has raised that point. Of course I have a duty to represent the views of my constituents who happen to be Catholics. As my right hon. and learned Friend well knows, I have done so vigorously, fully and frequently. [HON. MEMBERS: "When?"] Wait and see. That is quite a different role—representing the views of those constituents—from the role that the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) has foisted upon me of being some sort of spokesman for the Catholic hierarchy. That is not my role.
§ Mr. Beith
He has tried to make sure that those of us who wish to represent Catholics in our constituencies are prevented from doing so. There will shortly be a by-election in South end. There are Catholic schools in South end that now fear that these drastic reductions will force them to close. Wherever one looks, one finds the same situation.
I hope that a few Conservative Members will also assume the mantle. We have yet to see. It is we who represent the opinion of country people and of Catholic parents. The Leader of the House wants to rush the Bill through and to curtail any discussion.
As I said earlier, I wish to draw the attention of the hon. Members for Harborough and for Lancaster (Mrs. Kellett-Bowman) and of those others who are concerned to pursue amendments and put forward alternative suggestions. I respect their integrity and determination. During discussion of a previous Education Bill, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Liberal Party moved an amendment to make a change in the business motion. That amendment was voted for by Conservative Members, including the Leader of the House. The effect of that amendment was to remove a particular limitation from the business motion. I would 1247 have thought that now that the Conservatives are in power they might have practised the principle for which they previously voted. I would have thought that they would have modified future business motions accordingly. We find nothing of the kind. In paragraph 9(1)(c) of the business motion we find, significantly, the unamended provisions.
We all know what happens when the axe falls on a guillotined debate. A string of Government amendments is read out, and without discussion those amendments are put to the vote. That is the end of the matter. Government amendments and those moved by a member of the Government can be put to the vote. The only amendments by Labour Members, Liberal Members or Conservative Back Benchers that can be put to a Division are those that have been fortunate enough to have been the subject of the limited debate.
If an amendment—however acceptable a compromise it may represent and however much it may gain the widest support—is not moved by a member of the Government, it cannot be put to a Division by Mr. Speaker when the guillotine falls. It is almost inevitable that among the amendments that may fall victim, some will be of the type suggested by the hon. Member for Harborough. He will want to vote on a particular amendment that he and a few of his hon. Friends have tabled. The Liberal Party and the Labour Party will put down amendments. However, the only amendments that can be voted on are those that have been moved by a member of the Government. The Government will not move my amendments. They will not move the amendments of the hon. Member for Harborough. They will move their own amendments. Then they will pack up and get off home as quickly as possible. They will get away before the truth dawns.
They are rushing the Bill through in order to sting country parents and Catholic parents. They will make sure that the penalty applies to children whose sole objective is to get to school.
§ Mr. Norman Buchan (Renfrewshire, West)
Would that not give an obvious opportunity to the Leader of the House—who has told us so passionately that he has argued for the Catholics—to table a 1248 motion in the name of the hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) and so move it?
§ Mr. Beith
Without a business motion, the only way to remove those fatal words is for members of the Government to move amendments put down in our names or in the names of Conservative Back Benchers. There is very little hope of that.
I shall be interested if the Leader of the House defies the Secretary of State. I shall be interested if he moves such an amendment as that would be a strange example of the doctrine of collective Cabinet responsibility. The Leader of the House previously gave ready support to the principle that Back-Bench amendments should be called for Division. He will not give his hon. Friends the opportunity of a Division tonight. I know why. He wants as little discussion on such sensitive issues as possible. The right hon. Gentleman and the Secretary of State have discovered the most extraordinary vote loser that has ever been found by any Conservative Government. Even in Wales, where there has been flirtation with the Conservative Party, and in parts of rural England, where there has long been allegiance to the Conservative Party, there is deep and genuine concern among parents, who already have enough to contend with.
The hon. Member for Harborough mentioned agricultural workers, and the Bill is constructed to make sure that they do not benefit. There are savings in the Bill for those on family income supplement and supplementary benefits. This is the poverty trap writ large. The farm workers are just above that level, but their children often travel 10 or 15 miles to school. Their village schools were closed and they were told that their children would have transport to another area. Their children are away at school for longer periods and a midday meal is therefore more important for them than for town children. They are the sort of people the Government want to hit in the Bill. They will long have cause to resent this Government.
§ 9.5 pm
§ Mr. J. F. Pawsey (Rugby)
The hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) referred to parliamentary virginity. If we use his yardstick and measure virtue and 1249 virginity by verbal activity, I wonder what definition we should apply to him—a parliamentary "pro" or a Government "groupie"? I do not know. Perhaps he will tell us later.
I am a member of the Standing Committee on the Education (No. 2) Bill. It is an experience that I would not have missed. It has been at times tedious, exciting, amusing, interesting and useful. The variety is not surprising. We have spent about 82 hours in discussion, which is similar to the number of hours spent in discussing the previous Government's Education Bill in 1976.
Of those 82 hours, many have been spent on points of order. I do not suggest that they were all bogus, but, without exception, they were wordy and time-consuming. Never was a word used when a sentence could be found. Never was a sentence used when a paragraph could be used. If the Opposition had to rewrite the 10 Commandments, they would need not two but 20 tablets of stone.
This motion is fair and proper. Without it, consideration of the Bill would have dragged on and on. The Bill would have taken weeks, if not months, to reach the statute book. It would have prevented this properly and constitutionally elected Government from getting their business on to the statute book.
The obstruction would not have been democratic. It is not democratic for a minority to obstruct the business of the majority. It is not democratic to deprive the majority of their rights. The Government have a duty to treat the Opposition in a reasonable fashion. We have had over 80 hours of debate, which is sufficient, and the duty has been discharged and we have had enough hot air in Committee to refloat the "Titanic". In seeking to spin out the debate and delay legislation, the Opposition are ful-filling their first duty—the duty to oppose. But there is also a duty on them to strike a balance between the need to oppose and constructive opposition. That balance has not been evident in Committee.
There is a clear need to take note of the uncertainties that exist in the country. The debate has not been taking place in a vacuum. Local authorities, teachers and parents are aware of the Bill and of the 1250 problems that certain Conservative Members feel will be created by clause 23. There are uncertainties. It is better that those uncertainties are moved out of the arena and resolved. Local authorities need to formulate policy. They have to make plans for the next school year. I do not see how this can be done unless the matter is clearly resolved and this legislation becomes law.
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Bedwellty is not in his place. He said earlier today in Committee—this may not be an exact quotation—that the victims of foreshortened debate are those who have to administer the law. The hon. Gentleman is an experienced parliamentarian. He has grown old in the discipline and service of his party. His experience encompasses many a parliamentary strategem. It ranges over a number of years in the way and method that a Government get their business on to the statute book.
However, it is difficult to reconcile the reputation of the hon. Member for Bedwellty as an up-and-coming, thrusting member of the Opposition, who may be the next but one leader of his party, with the way that he has run and organised the debate in Committee. I believe that he was well aware that sooner or later a guillotine would be imposed. I believe that, in the clear knowledge that he was aware of that and was dragging out debate, the responsibility for foreshortening debate is his and that of fellow Labour Members on the Committee.
§ Mr. Gordon Oakes (Widnes)
I shall speak briefly. A number of my hon. Friends, especially those from Scotland, where this Bill also applies, have not yet had an opportunity to speak. On all sides of the House, it is recognised that there are occasions when a Government need to bring in a guillotine for reasons of speed, national importance or the majority that they possess, or because the end of the Session, or the end of a Parliament, is near. A guillotine not only cuts down the Opposition's time; it cuts down the time of the minority parties. As the Secretary of State will have heard, he is also cutting down the time, rights and privileges of his own hon. Friends. A guillotine diminishes the privileges of hon. Members of the House. I wish to put that clearly to the Leader of the House, 1251 who has made the point several times himself on previous occasions. The right hon. Gentleman has to answer it tonight.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Secretary of State made comparisons between the Bill over which I had charge when I was Minister of State, Department of Education and Science and this Bill. A lot of responsibility for the decision whether to impose a guillotine and the speed at which a Bill proceeds depends on the Minister in charge of the Bill. It is regrettable to hear that the right hon. and learned Gentleman never even attended the Committee. That is a pity. The right hon. and learned Gentleman was a member of the Committee when I was in charge of the 1978 Education Bill. It is no use the right hon. and learned Gentleman telling the House that his hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State gave out notes on the clauses. I did. Most Ministers now give out notes on clauses to speed debate.
I should like the Leader of the House, in his reply, to state on how many occasions amendments were accepted by the Government and on how many occasions undertakings were given by the Government to accept the spirit of an amendment. That certainly happened under the previous Labour Government at the end of a Parliament. Our Bill began in January and ended in March only because the general election was called. We were then over three-quarters of the way through the Bill.
There were no restraints on the part of the Opposition towards that Bill. I can still hear the words of the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) going round and round in my head, because he spoke for hours on end. How did we tackle it? On clause 6 of my Bill, I listened to what the Opposition said and then admitted that there was merit in their argument. Therefore, I withdrew the clause and introduced a new clause and a whole new schedule. We debated that not just for one or two mornings but for several weeks. I did not object to that. It was an important Education Bill and I wanted a consensus. In education we must carry the local authorities along with us, so I did not begrudge the time that it took to reach agreement.
On another occasion the Opposition were suspicious of regulations that I was 1252 bringing in under a particular section. Those regulations would have been subject to the negative procedure. It is the duty of an Opposition to be suspicious of a Minister when they do not know what he is introducing. I did not promise that at some time in the future—God knows when—I would let hon. Members on the Committee see the draft regulations. The Opposition asked for the draft regulations on the Thursday. They got them on the Thursday night, ready for the debate on Tuesday.
On another occasion I admitted to the Committee, and the then Secretary of State, Mrs. Shirley Williams, admitted to the House, that we had made two big mistakes in our Bill in clauses 7 and 11. All Governments make mistakes in Bills. We had misjudged the effect of those two clauses on voluntary schools, particularly Roman Catholic schools, so we withdrew them. The hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee) tabled an amendment to which I added my name. We apologised to the Committee and we did not proceed. If a Government treat a Committee properly, they do not need a guillotine. If the Conservative Government had behaved with that sort of give-and-take spirit, we would not be debating a guillotine motion tonight.
The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster once referred to me in a Committee as irenic. I did not know what that word meant, so I sent my PPS down to the Library to find out whether the right hon. Member was insulting me or praising me. As it happens, it means a peace-bringer. All Ministers, irrespective of the majority of their Government, must be peace-bringers, not merely to placate the Opposition but to carry on good government.
I remind the House that we have had only eight months of Conservative Government. We are not even half-way through the first term of the first year of the present Government, yet they have the audacity to bring in a guillotine motion tonight. They have had the advantages of a Session that will run from May 1979 to November 1980. We are only in January, yet they are already bringing in a guillotine.
The Secretary of State and his hon. Friends know perfectly well that, not only because of opposition within the Conservative Party and Conservative-controlled 1253 councils but because of the Treasury and the second round of spending cuts, he has no hope at all of implementing clause 17 of his Bill—not just this year but for many years to come. Instead of having week after week of theological argument on that clause, the Government should have accepted the fundamental economic and political facts and withdrawn clause 17 from the Committee. Not only would they have saved time; they would have generated the good will that is necessary to carry along the Opposition and the minority parties on other matters.
§ Mr. Christopher Price (Lewisham, West)
Is it not the case that the Secretary of State is wasting time because, in their obstinacy, the Government have drawn the clause in a mandatory fashion? It is said that the Minister "shall" draw up and execute the assisted places scheme. When the Treasury finally convinces the Government that the £55 million is not available, they will have to come back to the House with an amending Bill to get rid of it if they are not to be in breach of the law.
§ Mr. Oakes
I thank my hon. Friend. It is shameful that, after the possibility of change was there at a much earlier stage, the right hon. and learned Gentleman should come before the House and ask for a guillotine, to deprive not only the Opposition but his hon. Friends of the chance to debate the Bill.
Government Ministers should have been much more forthcoming earlier in regard to school meals. It is still not clear in the country whether the gag that the Government are trying to impose on the House will be imposed upon councillors who have children. I know that the Under-Secretary said on 15 January that the Secretary of State for the Environment would make a statement about that. He must make a statement in this House and send a circular to local authorities saying that those councillors who have children have the right, as democratic representatives, to vote on the Bill affecting their children. I would accord them this right as well. Conservative councillors with children at independent schools, councillors who have no children and those who might in future have children should be allowed to vote on the clause 17 provision if it 1254 ever comes before a council engaged on the question of independent schools.
In relation to school transport, I say to the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster—not as the representative of the Roman Catholic hierarchy—with whom I have shared many platforms and who believes, as I do, in the glorious concept of British education, that Church schools and State schools can happily coexist. That is unique in the world. We do not experience anti-clericalism on the one side and anti-secularism on the other. That is because of the 1944 Act and what went before it.
The clause on school transport effectively deprives parents of the right to send their children to voluntary schools. It especially deprives Catholic parents of their right to choose a religious education for their children, because of the distance of the chosen school from their home. It is no use giving the right of choice when, on economic grounds, we take away the privilege of religious education from parents. That means that we tell parents that they can have a Catholic education for their children if they are rich enough to send their children to school on the school bus.
When I met—as a Minister—with religious objections I bowed down to them and was prepared to say that we had made a mistake. I put that to the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, who is not in any way representing the Roman Catholic hierarchy here. I know of his passionate belief in educational coexistence and in the right of parents to send their children to a voluntary school.
The Bill denies that right. This guillotine is preventing us discussing that right. Therefore I ask the right hon. Gentleman, in all fairness, to concede that it is shameful that the House should experience a guillotine so early in the first Session of a Conservative Government affecting a Bill that so erodes the liberties and rights of so many people in this country.
§ Mr. Norman Buchan (Renfrewshire, West)
I regard the opportunity to speak in this debate as a privilege. There are major events about to happen in Scottish education. These developments have been set out in the Bill, but discussion in 1255 Committee has been devoted largely to English and Welsh education problems. It is true that we have had the presence in Committee of my hon. Friend the Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan). As was said of another Bannockburn man, one such man is worth 10 Englishmen. However, that is not sufficient representation for the education structures and councils of Scotland.
We hoped that when the Scottish clauses were reached time would be given for them to be debated at considerable length in Committee and at equal length to the same provision applying to England and Wales.
When we sought on an earlier occasion to have the Scottish parts of the Bill sent to a Standing Committee other than the Education Bill Committee, we received the usual assurance that sufficient time would be given in the proceedings on the Bill in Committee. However, on the eve of the Committee moving on to the Scottish clauses—those concerned with school milk, meals and transport as in England and Wales—the guillotine motion has been introduced.
A number of suspicions must immediately be raised. In a real sense, the Bill has nothing to do with education. There is little in the Bill that advances education thinking or education practice. It is a Bill to assist in the promotion of tax cuts for the rich. It is a Bill to enhance the privileges of those who already seek the opportunities of private education. Therefore, it is a Bill that reverses not only the whole trend of education thinking since the Education Act 1944 but the movement that led up to and brought about the 1944 Act.
When I listened to the hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr), I had high hopes. I still hope that the hon. Gentleman will show his opposition. It reflects major opinion not only among education committees but among parents throughout England, Wales and Scotland. Above all, it reflects the views of councillors who are responsible for rural education throughout England, Wales and Scotland.
The hon. Gentleman will have the opportunity to vote to support the Opposition. I believe that he represents the views of a majority of Conservative Members. They will be able to demonstrate their attitude tonight. Why do not the hon. Members for Lancaster (Mrs. 1256 Kellett-Bowman), for Harborough and for Rugby (Mr. Pawsey) act and reject the motion? That would be the simplest thing to do. That would enable the whole Bill to be discussed. They could explain to their constituents their attitude to school milk, meals and transport.
There was an option open to the Government. It is one that has been taken in the past. When a part of a Bill has dealt primarily with England and Wales and has included certain sections dealing with Scotland, it has happened more than once in the past that the Scottish sections have been sent to a Scottish Committee. We asked for that to happen in this instance, and our request was refused. The Government are now introducing a guillotine motion. The effect of that, in the very interests of the Committee, will be to subsume the Scottish clauses within the remaining debates, which can take place over only two or three days, or to cause the Committee to ignore them.
We are not even left with the consolation of time on Report. I agree with the hon. Members for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) and for Harborough that two days is a monstrous period for the Bill to be considered on Report, irrespective of the part of the guillotine motion affecting the Bill in Committee. There should have been extended consideration on Report. The provisions to which I have directed attention concern every Member of Parliament and every parent.
The Government's strategy resembles the sets of toy eggs that may be bought in Russia. As one removes one cover, there appear another and another. As one monstrosity is uncovered here, so one continues to uncover another and another.
§ Mr. Buchan
No. They are not so much moles as rhinoceroses. It is suggested that Conservative Back Benchers may table amendments or motions to the Bill on Report. However, the Government deprive their Back Benchers of the chance of showing their attitude. It would be open to the hon. Member for Harborough to table an amendment to protect the children of his rural workers. However, only the occupants of the 1257 Government Front Bench are able to move these amendments.
A marvellous opportunity is presented to the Leader of the House. We have heard so much from him in the past about this devotion to education. We have heard so much from him tonight, even in a short intervention. He argued passionately the case for children attending Catholic schools. Let us see some evidence. If the hon. Member for Harborough tables an amendment to protect the children in rural areas, will the Leader of the House give us a guarantee that he will adhere to the passionate words of his intervention and move the amendment? If he does not, he is a humbug. I do not think, Mr. Speaker, that "humbug" is unparliamentary. I see that your head is tilted in that way. On the contrary, I am astonished at my moderation.
Local councils throughout Scotland, both Tory and Labour, have asserted that they will not implement the Bill. The convener of Grampian says that no matter what pressure he comes under, he will not implement the Bill. That means that he will either have to go to gaol in default or pay for the services out of the rates. The rates in Scotland are already facing a minimum of a 25 per cent. increase. The intention to pay these services would push up the increase in rates throughout Scotland to 28 or 30 per cent.
If that happens, I do not wish to see any ratepayers' associations coming to my surgery to complain about the level of rates and then driving away in cars with a sticker that says "I love Maggie". Come to think of it, there are not many stickers like that now. I wonder why.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I did not wish to interrupt the hon. Gentleman in the full flow of his oratory, but for the sake of the record I must say that to call any right hon. or hon. Member a humbug is an unparliamentary expression. That ruling has been made on many occasions.
§ Mr. Buchan
I accept your ruling, Mr. Speaker. I was thinking of the old-fashioned humbug, which was rather sweet.
§ Mrs. Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)
People throughout the country, whether town dwellers or in rural areas, accept almost unanimously that the present system is grossly unfair. In my village of Halton, sonic children's parents pay for transport and some receive free transport, even though living in houses next door to each other. That can do nothing but cause ill feeling.
It was with that in mind that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, when Secretary of State for Education, set up an inquiry into school transport, which reported shortly before we fell from office on the last occasion.
In the whole of the time that the Labour Party was in Government, it did nothing to remove the anomalies. Opposition Members should be sitting there in sackcloth and ashes. They have no right to criticise us on that matter. Most people—though they accept that the present system is unfair—are not prepared to accept burdens that are beyond their bearing.
§ Mr. Speaker
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Lady, but she must direct her argument not to the content of the Bill but to the allocation of time motion.
§ Mrs. Kellett-Bowman
You are absolutely right, Mr. Speaker. We are coming to those clauses just as the guillotine is falling. Even with a guillotine, I maintain that it is perfectly possible in Committee to put forward perfectly sensible amendments that will bring justice to the countryside for parents who wish their children to attend a Catholic or Church of England school. We have excellent denominational schools in my part of the world.
Measures should be proposed to alleviate the fears of many parents. They are afraid not so much of the initial charge that would be imposed as of the height to which it might escalate in years to come.
It was with that in mind that I put forward an amendment that stated:Clause 23, page 21, line 35, at end insert—(3A) The Maximum charge of the levy for school transport shall not exceed the cost of public transport for 'walking distance'.The amendment referred, of course, to the cost of public transport in respect of 1259 a child, which in most cases is half. When the Bill is discussed in Committee, it is essential that an amendment of that sort should be introduced. Many children come from large families, and families in the countryside tend to be larger than families elsewhere. I should like local authorities to follow the example of the Lancashire county council, which limits the charges to two children, while other members of the family go free. I do not agree with the rate that the Lancashire county council has set. I believe that it is too high.
§ Mr. George Foulkes (South Ayrshire)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Are the hon. Lady's comments relevant to the motion before us? It seems to me that they are totally out of order?
§ Mr. Speaker
I believe that the hon. Lady was about to say that without the guillotine she could not introduce her amendment.
§ Mrs. Kellett-Bowman
I was seeking to suggest, Mr. Speaker, what should be said in Committee, because, unfortunately, I am not permitted—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The hon. Lady is experienced enough to know that with a little ingenuity she could link her remarks to the motion that is before us.
§ Mrs. Kellett-Bowman
I think, Mr. Speaker, that I have already said sufficient to send a warning shot across the bows of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State. Many of us will vote for the motion very reluctantly unless we receive some assurance that the matters that we have raised will be considered by him in Committee and suitable amendments brought forward to deal with the anxieties that have been expressed.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I shall call another hon. Member, but I must inform the House that I understand that Front Bench speakers would like to begin the winding-up speeches at 9.47 pm.
§ Mr. Christopher Price (Lewisham, West)
I shall try to co-operate with you in what you have said, Mr. Speaker. However, the change that the Government are 1260 making in the Bill—and the change that will be guillotined by the motion—is only slowly dawning upon the country. After three years of patient negotiation with every education body in the land, between 1941 and 1944, clause 1 of the 1944 Act stated that it should be the duty of the Ministerto promote the education of the people of England and Wales…and to secure the effective execution by local authorities, under his control and direction, of the national policy".What the Government are doing in terms of school meals and transport, and what the motion is doing, is to abandon the duty laid on the Secretary of State by Parliament in 1944.
It was quite clear that the 1944 Act covered school meals and transport. It was quite clear that Parliament considered school meals and transport and all the other provisions in the Act as all of a piece in the Secretary of State's duty to promote the education of the people of England and Wales and to undertake a national policy. What the Government are proposing is a massive change, not just to the 1944 Act but to the Acts of 1870 and 1902, as well as the Education (Provision of Meals) Act that was introduced by a Liberal Government in 1906. All those Acts, which were patiently built up over a century, are to be scrapped.
§ Mrs. Kellett-Bowman
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Are the hon. Gentleman's remarks relevant to the motion before the House?
§ Mr. Speaker
I am quite sure that the hon. Gentleman will do what the hon. Lady did, and link his remarks to the motion.
§ Mr. Price
My point—which you are so sure I shall get to, Mr. Speaker—is that it is those elements of national policy on which it is proposed to curtail debate, both in Committee and on Report. They are elements which no Government, Labour or Conservative, have ever proposed touching in the many Bills on education since 1976. This is a truly revolutionary change, which is dawning on the country only slowly. We receive letters about this change from women's institutes, the National Farmers' Union, and so on. [Interruption.] I have received letters—
§ Mr. Speaker
I cannot hear these exchanges. I realise that I am lucky, but at the same time I want to listen to the hon. Member.
§ Mr. Price
I have received letters from organisations of which I have never heard about the clauses that it is proposed to guillotine. But they write to me begging me to act. I know that when the guillotine falls it will be more difficult to do so.
The Secretary of State stated, quite wrongly—he knows nothing about the Committee proceedings as he did not attend them—that the long-winded speeches were made by Labour Members. If he had attended the Committee sessions and listened to his Under-Secretary of State discussing for half-hour after half-hour issues in the Bill, and attempting to struggle through clause 17 and trying to understand abstruse matters such as company law, he would agree that it is necessary to clarify the issue and get the law right. The guillotine will make that impossible.
The guillotine is being brought in at a very early stage in the year. As far as I can remember, no Government have ever used the guillotine in January. It is usual to introduce the guillotine towards spring and summer, when the congestion in Committee is great. The guillotine has been brought in because, for the first time, we have a Government who are contemptuous not only of 100 years of consensus educational traditions but of the traditions of the House.
I hope that my hon. Friends will vote against the Bill.
§ Mr. John MacKay (Argyll)
I have much pleasure in speaking after the hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price), because I have spent approximately 80 hours in following him, hour after hour, in Committee. His speech tonight is by far the shortest speech that he has made. He has treated us to discourses on history and on the meanings of words. He has even taken dictionaries into the Committee and has equally treated us to learned dissertations on the meaning of Latin phrases. It is all very learned and all very time-consuming. Some of the things that I feel to be common sense do not appear to be so when we are in the Standing Committees of this 1262 House, if not in the Chamber. I thought that we were here to discuss the guillotine and not the substance of the clauses still to come.
I shall attempt, in my remaining three minutes, to discuss the guillotine. I am reluctant to see the guillotine being used, but let no one who sits here and who does not sit in Standing Committee D have any doubt where the blame lies. The blame lies with the people who for hour after hour have taken an unnecessary amount of time. The hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) has got what he wanted, which is a guillotine on the latter part of the Bill. I am sure that he would have doubled the length of his speeches, if necessary, in order to get a guillotine.
At the very beginning, we sat for four hours on the sittings motion. Then we had a further hour and 20 minutes on the manner in which the Bill was to be considered. I am a member of another Standing Committee which, within an hour this morning, got rid of a sittings motion. It is an equally contentious Committee, dealing with the Tenants' Rights (Scotland) Bill. Perhaps it has not as many good talkers as Standing Committee D. On one occasion in Standing Committee D we sat all night. For a long time there was a good deal of stalling going on, and then suddenly we went forward at a gallop. Indeed, today we got through more clauses than we have ever managed to take previously in a week, let alone a sitting.
The Minister mentioned Tuesday 15 January, when for three hours and 50 minutes we chased a point of order. I thought that the hon. Member for Bedwellty had made it very well but his hon. Friends thought that he had made it so badly that each of them wanted to do it all over again.
Finally, if anyone doubts that the Committee has been treated to quite spurious points of order, I recommend him—if he is ill and has a long time to spend in hospital—to read the reports of the Committee and to count how many times the Chairman has had to say that something was not a point of order.
§ Mr. Michael Foot (Ebbw Vale)
I have in the past been involved in a number of timetable motions and the 1263 debates on them, so that I have a certain nostalgic interest in such discussions.
I am especially glad to have the chance of speaking in the debate—and I am very sorry for my hon. Friends who have not had the chance to speak—because of the representations that have been made to me in my constituency. A few days ago I had representations made to me by Catholic constituents and by people from Welsh schools. They came from the whole of Gwent to make their representations. They made an overwhelming case. Many of my hon. Friends have contributed in making their case in the debate today.
The Government will be making a great mistake—to put it at its lowest from their own point of view—if they do not understand the strength of that feeling and how determined we are to try to secure a change in the Bill, even though we know that the operation of the guillotine makes more difficult the chance of getting that change. That is one of the main reasons why we are opposed to this guillotine motion.
References have been made to my hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) and the way in which he led the Opposition in Committee. I believe that most of those who made attacks upon him were extremely jealous. It was said by someone in years gone by that it was possible to hear a speech in which there was an Iliad in a nutshell, and I am sure that is the way of my hon. Friend. Many of the speeches that we have heard from Government Members have been the other way round—a nutshell in an Iliad. We have had that from many of those who contributed to our discussions. My hon. Friend put his case strongly today, as I am sure he did in Committee. It would be a great mistake for the Government not to recognise that.
This debate on the timetable motion is different from my experience of many others. There has been no attempt by anyone in the House to quote what someone else may have said about such motions in the past. The hon. Member for Berwick-on-Tweed (Mr. Beith) made reference to what had been said by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House on merits of a Bill. But on the issue of guillotines the significance of the absence of any quotations from what others have said on previous occasions is 1264 precisely because the bulk of those who have applied their minds to the motion and our discussion recognise how strong the feelings are that have been represented. Such strong feelings have been expressed not only from my right hon. and hon. Friends but from, for example, the hon. Members for Lancaster (Mrs. Kellett-Bowman) and for Harborough (Mr. Farr), who undoubtedly represented what their constituents had to say.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price) said, a major alteration in education is being attempted in the Bill. Major burdens will be placed on many families up and down the country, some of them the poorest families, some of them from Catholic communities, and some whose children go to Welsh schools. It would have been far better, and in the Government's own interest, to have allowed a longer discussion to see how these matters could be dealt with. However, we know what will happen shortly when we come to the conclusion of the debate.
Many of those who have entered the Chamber to speak and to vote will not have listened to the whole debate. Therefore, to enlighten them as they drift in, I will indicate to them, perhaps by altering the name of the Bill, the sort of measure this is.
I know that the Bill is described in some quarters as the Education (No. 2) Bill, but that is not correct. It is a combination of a large number of other Bills contained in a general framework. It might be better described as the Free School Transport Abolition Bill, the Poverty Trap Extension Bill, the Hit the Children First Bill, or the Feed My Lambs (Frustration) Bill. It might also be described as the Milestone Unlimited Bill. Any of those titles would be more apposite.
Those who have come late to out discussions and who may drift into the Lobby will be voting for a rough time in their constituencies. They will face difficulties in the weeks to come because they will have to explain why they used their vote for the purpose of trying to prevent adequate discussion of a major change in our educational policy.
I hope that the Government will recognise that they are not dealing with some procedural matter. I know that some hon. Members such as the hon. 1265 Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee) believe in having a timetable motion for every Bill that is introduced, or want to regulate the procedures of the House. I have always opposed that, whichever side of the House I have been on. If we proceeded along those lines we would regulate still further the business of the House, so that the Opposition would not be able to put their case.
Though not an absolute novelty, something fresh is created in this guillotine motion. There are exceptions, but generally guillotine motions are required to get highly controversial party measures through the House. There is nothing wrong with highly controversial party measures. I am all in favour of them. They are some of the main transactions that have to be put through the House. Often, they can be put through only with the assistance of a guillotine, but with this motion, more than any other guillotine motion that I can recall, the purpose is not to stifle the Opposition. It is much more to stifle Conservative Members.
Those Conservative Members who have spoken bravely in the debate have the remedy in their own hands if they wish to avoid the charge that they have assisted in applying a gag to themselves. No one knows for certain whether they will have that remedy later. Once the guillotine has fallen, there is no certainty that they will be able to press to a vote the issues that concern them. They will have forfeited that opportunity. I urge them to consider the matter carefully.
Our debate has been not the formal exchanges that sometimes take place on guillotine motions but an expression of the anger felt throughout the country that the Government should be seeking to force through clause 23 and other clauses in the manner that they have adopted.
I hope that we shall have a sufficient response from Conservative Members who wish to sustain proper debate and to ensure that they have the chance to speak for their constituents. If they do not exercise that right, they will have to bear the responsibility for the increased bus and school meal charges and the increased charges that are to be placed on the community in general. Now is the time that we decide. I hope that Conservative 1266 Members will join us in the Lobby to defeat the Government.
§ The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Norman St. John-Stevas)
No hon. Member likes guillotine motions, and I am no exception. Anyone who believes in parliamentary government, which is government by discussion, must regret the curtailment of debate.
When the closure and guillotine procedures were introduced in the House in the 1880s, they were strongly resisted by both the libertarians and the traditionalists, but in face of the obstruction of Government business by Irish Members at that time the House voted to change its procedures and to curtail the untrammelled right of debate.
Hon. Members accepted then, and they accept now, that some limitation is necessary on absolute freedom of debate—closing an open end, as it were—because otherwise Parliament would be reduced to impotence and no Government would be able to get their business through.
I was interested in the constructive suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee) that the further reform of a timetabling committee should be considered. That would be a drastic change because time is the principal weapon of any Opposition, but I think that the suggestion should be considered further, though it can hardly be disposed of at the tail end of this debate.
I was also interested in the points made about children in rural areas and Parents who want a denominational education for their children.
Of course, these are points for my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science who has ministerial responsibility in this sphere. But I want to take up the points that were made by the right hon. Member for Widnes (Mr. Oakes), my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster (Mrs. Kellett-Bowman) and others on the position of denominational schools. Let me make it plain that under the Government proposals a local education authority will continue to be able to help parents—
§ It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.