§ 11. In this Order "allotted day", in relation to the Companies Bill [Lords] or the Children Bill [Lords] means any day on which that Bill is put down as 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 House does not need me to remind it that it is fundamental to the way in which the House operates that the elected Government are entitled, on reasonable terms, to look to the House for the passage of their business. That does not mean that we do not have a responsibility to listen to the points made by hon. Members of all parties. In the case of these two Bills, we have been listening with great 1075 care, and that has been reflected in many amendments designed to improve and clarify the two measures. We also have a responsibility to respect the right of hon. Members of all parties, including, of course, the official Opposition, to debate and challenge the Government's legislation.
In the case of the Companies Bill and the Children Bill, it cannot be argued that the Opposition, or indeed the whole House, have not been given that chance. We have almost completed consideration of both measures and it would be most unwelcome to many outside the House if the Government were to allow the Bills to be put at risk at this late stage, when they have been successfully piloted to this stage with the agreement of the House at each stage.
At about this time last year, the House agreed to a somewhat similar approach by my predecessor, when a timetable was put on the last stages of the School Boards (Scotland) Bill and the Housing (Scotland) Bill to ensure that those important measures would be allowed to complete their passage. My motion today is in no sense unprecedented and it is even more justified in light of the way in which progress on these Bills has been delayed.
§ Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)
Will the Leader of the House tell us how many amendments there were to the Bills that he has just cited as precedents? Were there more than the 1,000 Government amendments on the Companies Bill or the 400 amendments on the Children Bill? Surely it is the weight of Government amendments that has caused the difficulties. The Government have not provided adequate time for scrutinising the many, often complicated, amendments to two complicated Bills.
§ Sir Geoffrey Howe
That is not the substance of the matter. In the case of the Children Bill, the overwhelming majority of the amendments were tabled, as my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State pointed out in the course of the debate earlier this week, in response to representations made by organisations outside the House and by the Opposition. During the period when the matter was proceeding normally, amendments were considered and disposed of by the hundred and dozens were dealt with each hour. That was no obstacle to progress and was a sensible way to handle matters in response to the wishes of the House. It is a matter of particular regret that we have been unable to make the good progress that was not merely expected but actually being achieved on the Children Bill.
The Children Bill is the most comprehensive and far-reaching reform of this branch of the law ever introduced. It meets a long-felt need for a comprehensive and integrated statutory framework to ensure the welfare of children. The establishment of a new statutory scheme to protect children in emergencies is particularly important and it was introduced in response to the Cleveland and other tragedies involving child abuse. Nobody doubts that and it has been made clear by Opposition speakers that, although there are disagreements on points of detail, the Bill commands wide support in the House. That was made apparent in Committee, when my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State, a man who is not always given to high exhilaration, described his time in Committee as a "happy experience" and hon. Members will know that that cannot be said of all Committees. In 16 Committee sittings which considered 439 amendments, the Committee 1076 divided only seven times. Many amendments made were designed to ensure that the Bill continued to command an overwhelming measure of cross-party support.
When the Bill returned to the Floor of the House on Monday, the House was content to consider 290 amendments in eight and a half hours with only one Division. In the first 23 minutes, we completed consideration of the first 53 clauses and in that time only two Opposition Members spoke. Until that point, proceedings on the Bill had been characterised by a mass of common sense.
The question is why it was then thought necessary to divide at the first opportunity on Tuesday night—a Division in which 183 hon. Members voted in favour and none against. The House knows why that Division took place and the hon. Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke) was kind enough to put it on record for the House. The Division was obviously not related to opposition to the clause because the hon. Member for Monklands. West said:The Front Benches have endeavoured to co-operate to ensure that the Bill reaches the statute book."—[Official Report, 24 October 1989; Vol. 158, c. 806.]He went on to explain that other hon. Members representing mining areas felt it necessary to demonstrate because of their feelings that they had a grievance. It was not related to the Children Bill which, as he said, every hon. Member, including the Opposition Front Bench, supported.
The hon. Member for Monklands, West was kind enough to observe that I was a "reasonable man" and I am content to accept that description for the purposes of this presentation. However, I could not easily sustain that reputation if I were to tell the public and the organisations that have devoted thousands of hours to working for and improving this measure that the Bill was to be lost as a result of a grievance quite unrelated to this necessary and widely expected Bill.
We have already spent 12½ hours this week on Report, as well as five and a half hours on Second Reading debate and 39 hours in Committee. It would be a tragedy for the Bill to be lost at this stage after so much hard work and, above all, after such a welcome measure of co-operation.
§ Mr. Madden
As an hon. Member who was here on Tuesday night and Wednesday morning and was, with other hon. Members, eagerly awaiting the passage of the Children Bill, which we widely support, may I ask the Leader of the House to explain why, at 1.30 am, it was the Minister of State who moved the adjournment of consideration of the Bill, which was then debated for half an hour? There was a Division at 1.55 am in which 110 Conservative Members voted to adjourn the business while 22 hon. Members—all Labour—voted against adjourning the business. We were perfectly happy, as we made clear several times, to stay here all night and through the next morning to ensure that the Bill was carried. The protests of the Leader of the House ring extremely hollow. This is the most cosmetic controversy that the House has known for a considerable time.
§ Sir Geoffrey Howe
The hon. Gentleman is not quite so simple as he sounds. He knows the background to those events perfectly well. The whole House, in line with the agreements and understandings made through the usual channels, was expecting to proceed to a conclusion on the matter that night. The hon. Member for Monklands, West 1077 was as startled and dismayed as every other hon. Member by what happened. It was wholly sensible, and made more sensible by the events the hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden) has described, to move to next business at that stage so that we could get to the stage that we have now reached.
The Companies Bill, as the House knows, is aimed primarily at creating an up-to-date framework of company law within which enterprise can flourish and it also provides the necessary safeguards for investors and creditors. It contains provisions to implement European Community directives on consolidated accounts and the regulation of orders, both of which have to be implemented by the end of this calendar year, and it also includes certain reforms to ease the statutory requirements on companies. The Bill also contains a number of other less important but significant provisions.
In this case, some of the provisions are undeniably politically controversial, in contrast to those in the Children Bill. Others, as always with companies legislation, are technical. Even so, good steady progress was made in Committee, when about 600 amendments were considered over 15 sessions. Four hundred amendments were accepted by the Government, the level of debate was generally constructive and there was no evidence of what might be called obstructive tactics. In other words, the Bill was duly and carefully considered, sensible amendments were made and it came back to us for those changes to be confirmed. Sadly, last night we moved into a wholly different story.
Until 9 pm we had had three lively but well-contested debates on the areas of prime political controversy in the Bill. That was entirely as expected and reflected the interest of hon. Members on both sides in such matters as political donations. What followed was less edifying and, in some respects, rather strange. Only three of the remaining groups of amendments were considered during the next two hours simply because Divisions were forced by Opposition Members on each and every amendment as it came before the House.
That those Divisions were scarcely motivated by any consideration of the substance or merit of the amendments was demonstrated not just by the lack of any debate, but by the nature of some of those which attracted such unexplained opposition. That conduct was extremely strange, especially as two of the amendments, nos. 13 and 14, on which Opposition Members forced Divisions were tabled to fulfil pledges specifically given to the Opposition in Committee. I commend to the House the view that that underlies the conclusion that the Opposition Front Bench has now entirely lost control of its ability to co-operate in managing the business of the House. It is difficult to see more convincing evidence of that than that provided by the Divisions on those amendments.
In the face of those circumstances, the motion will allow more time for consideration of the remaining amendments than was in prospect under earlier arrangements that Opposition Members failed to deliver.
§ Mr. Nicholas Bennett (Pembroke)
Will my right hon. and learned Friend give the Labour deputy Chief Whip the opportunity to explain why he voted against an amendment which merely replaced the word "part" with "section"?
§ Sir Geoffrey Howe
It is for the hon. Gentleman to explain that remarkable proposition. There will be ample time for further explanation to be forthcoming as the timetable motion has been carefully drafted to allow sufficient time for the Opposition to make their points—even points as important as the difference between "part" and "section"—provided that they do so with a normal degree of reason and restraint. There is the opportunity to spend additional time on the Companies Bill if we finish this debate in less than three hours.
I am sure that many hon. Members would agree that the time would be better spent on further consideration of the Bill than on debating the merits of this unarguably sensible and necessary measure. The amount of time available will increase for every minute that can be shaved off the debate on the motion. If the Opposition are truly interested in debating the Companies Bill, they will save their powder for later. I urge them to do so and I commend the motion to the House.
§ 5.2 pm
§ Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras)
What a mess the Government are in.
The speech we have just heard is nothing more than a confession of failure and an acknowledgement that the Government have totally mismanaged their business. The Government have an overall majority of almost 100 and they have a majority of almost 150 over Labour. Now they are reduced, however, to having to introduce more guillotines in one Session than at any time in the history of parliamentary Government.
What a sad spectacle the Leader of the House presents today. When he took up his present job he told a BBC audience:I think the Government as a whole needs the support of somebody of my experience, particularly when we are facing a new round of problems on the home front".The right hon. and learned Gentleman was putting himself over as a sort of philosopher king in Hush Puppies. Later briefings to newspapers suggested that, relieved of the pressing demands of the Foreign Office, he would abandon his usual abrasive image and would be able to stand back from the day-to-day hurly-burly to take a strategic overview and to steer the SS Thatcher to calmer waters by his characteristic delicate touch on the tiller. What went wrong? What happened to the long view? What has happened to all that wisdom and experience? As soon as we have a few votes late at night and a few demoralised Tory Back Benchers refuse to stay up to do their duly, blind panic sets in.
Last night, as we awaited the chimes at midnight, the deputy Prime Minister shuffled into the Chamber—or so I am told, as I was in the Tea Room at the time——
§ Mr. Dobson
I was contemplating the advice given in Hamlet:It has now struck 12; get thee to bed FranciscoI thought that we would all be better off in bed apart from those enthusiastic people who wanted to discuss the Bill. The deputy Prime Minister, however, shuffled into the Chamber to announce that the Government would guillotine the Children Bill and the Companies Bill. Such was their panic that the Government business managers could not even find time to follow the convention of this 1079 place by warning the Opposition that they intended to change the business. To be fair, the Leader of the House apologised for that in business questions today. I thank him, and accept his apology.
I am not sure what will happen now the Prime Minister has got home. If she complains that she has come back to a legislative shambles, I suggest that the right hon. and learned Gentleman should tell her not to pick on him as that shambles only imitates the shambles in Kuala Lumpur and the general shambles in Nos. 10 and 11 Downing street.
It is unfair to blame the new Leader of the House for much of this. He inherited this fine mess from his predecessor and from the Government Chief Whip, who appears to be absent at the moment. The Leader of the House must be rather daunted as he gradually discovers just how badly the Government business has been managed since the election. In case his colleagues have not entirely come clean, I shall spell out the facts.
The Government have an overall majority of almost 100. After the 1987 general election, the first Session of Parliament stretched from June 1987 until November 1988, a total of 218 sitting days—the fourth longest this century. With that majority and all that time, the Government got through just 49 Government Bills. The average for the first Session of a Parliament is 70, and the record is 104. For the Government even to achieve that measly total of 49 meant that they had to guillotine six Bills—one more than in any Session in this century.
The Government preach efficiency and improved output to everyone else, but, this year, their productivity has been even worse. This Session is likely to last for about 175 days, yet the number of Government Bills is likely to total just 37 and that will be the lowest number of Bills passed in an ordinary Session in an ordinary year since the second world war.—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] The shirkers on the Conservative Benches are cheering their own incapacity. To make things absolutely clear, those 37 Bills include four consolidation measures which usually go through on the nod. I say usually, as there is one in the House of Lords at the moment.
§ Sir Geoffrey Howe
The hon. Gentleman might like to swap a quotation from Hamlet with a quotation from Tacitus, who prudently said that his society, whereas it formerly suffered from crimes, had come to suffer from laws. That is why the Government believe in less law and not more.
§ Mr. Dobson
I am sure that everyone will recognise that the Government is led by a sub-Tacitus. She believes that we do not have a society. We certainly have more crime, but, apparently, in response to that we shall have fewer laws.
The Leader of the House should get things sorted out because, until fairly recently, Mr. Bernard Ingham and people from the right hon. and learned Gentleman's predecessor's office were constantly briefing the press—people who are not easily misled—about the massive load of legislation that they were pushing through. That was done in an effort to convince Tory Members that they should turn up at night and vote occasionally.
§ Mr. Cryer
Although the boasts of the Leader of the House about the reduction in the amount of legislation 1080 passed reverberate through our deliberations with such dynamism, will my hon. Friend bear in mind that the number of statutory instruments which the Government are pouring out has increased year by year? This is the Government who threatened to take legislation off our backs. They are simply using the Chamber to hand over power to Ministers so that they can oppress us even more.
§ Mr. Dobson
What my hon. Friend says is certainly true. He has had rather more experience of this than most hon. Members, because he chairs two Committees on Statutory Instruments. Indeed, my hon. Friend is, rightly, so concerned about this problem that he has been involved in organising an international conference so that hon. Members from this House can meet people from other legislatures to see what we can do about improving our scrutiny of statutory instruments. That should be a good development. I only hope that we learn a little from other members of the Commonwealth at the conference with which my hon. Friend is involved, even if we cannot learn in Kuala Lumpur.
The Government have already used a guillotine on six Bills. Even before today, they had repeated the record total. However, they now propose to guillotine two more Bills, setting a new record of eight guillotined Bills in one Session. The Prime Minister sometimes says, "Winston did this; Winston did that," so I have been checking what Winston did. In this one Session of Parliament, the Government will have used guillotines on more Bills than the Churchill and Eden Governments used in total, in the period of their combined Prime Ministerships. Turning to a slightly more up-to-date Tory Government, the Heath Government used a total of only five guillotines in four years.
So what about the guillotines that are proposed today? One applies to the Children Bill, which, as the Leader of the House pointed out, has all-party support for most but not all of its provisions. Probably the most important point that I can make about the Children Bill is that, on Tuesday night, after the Division to which the Leader of the House referred, we had a debate from just before 11 pm to 1.18 am on proposals covering the registration and regulation of day care facilities. As my hon. Friend the Member for Durham, North-West (Ms. Armstrong) said, that matter is central to the protection of children. That was a serious and well-argued debate in which hon. Members of all parties participated, at the end of which the Minister did not criticise what any hon. Member had said—nor did he suggest that any hon. Member had wasted time.
There was then a vote, in which other Opposition parties, apart from the Labour party, joined Labour Members to try to put that important new clause on the statute book. The Government—as they are entitled to do—voted it down. However, as soon as the Division on that important matter was over—at the end of that careful and well argued debate—the Minister of State jumped up and said that he wanted the House to adjourn, and used the Government's majority to push through the adjournment. The Government adjourned their own business.
§ Mr. Keith Vaz (Leicester, East)
I served on the Standing Committee on the Children Bill and spoke at 2 o'clock this morning to pay tribute to the work of the Minster of State, Department of Health. I pointed out that 1081 hon. Members of all parties wished to proceed with the Bill in a spirit of all-party agreement because it is very much a consensus Bill.
Early on Tuesday morning, my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bell) and I pressed the Minister to continue with the debate in that sitting. We said that we did not feel it appropriate that the sitting should be adjourned, and were happy to stay on to complete our consideration of the outstanding matters in the Bill, such as those relating to grandparents' rights and wardship. We did so because we felt that those issues were important and we wanted to retain the consensus felt about the Bill. We did not want our consideration of it to end in this squalid way.
§ Mr. Dobson
I believe that the Minister of State intends to reply to this debate, so perhaps he will explain his activities. However, I should explain that adjourning our consideration then means that 232 new clauses and amendments remain to be dealt with. Since that point, the Government have not approached the Opposition to ask us to agree to any informal timetable so that we can get the remaining parts of this important Bill through the House. Instead, they have insisted on this guillotine motion which, at most, provides 180 minutes to debate those 232 new clauses and amendments. That works out at about 46 seconds for each provision. The Government's actions are treating the Children Bill with contempt. I am not suggesting that the Minister of State who has been pursuing the Bill through Committee is party to all this, because I suspect that he is embarrassed by it.
I turn now to the Companies Bill. When the Bill was first presented, it was put before the House as the sort of measure that could be commended on Second Reading—as I recall, it had its Second Reading late at night—and as a worthwhile measure that should be passed and made company law. However, since then, over 1,000 amendments have been tabled, mainly by the Government. About 250 of them remain to be considered, of which all but four are Government amendments, for which the Government's guillotine provides about four and a half hours. According to my calculations, that works out at about 64 seconds per amendment, which is marginally better than the Government are providing for the remaining amendments to the Children Bill.
However, that does not provide much time for us to scrutinise carefully the important aspects of a Bill that covers exployees' rights, mergers and the technicalities of company accounts. God knows, nearly all the fraud in the City takes place because the present legislation was not carefully enough drafted or scrutinised. We should ensure that the stuff we are considering now is up to the task. Those are the restrictions that the guillotine motion will impose. It is symbolic that more time will be provided for the completion of the Companies Bill than for the completion of the Children Bill.
Most of the Government's problems spring from their arrogance. They are arrogant not only abroad but at home. They have certainly displayed arrogance over their legislative programme. Generally speaking—I exclude the Children Bill from this description—the genesis of the Government's legislative programme goes something like this. They come up with some half-baked idea from a Right-wing think tank. The idea gets a standing ovation at the Tory party conference. It is then brought back from Blackpool or Brighton and goes to Whitehall, where some 1082 hapless parliamentary draftsman is expected to turn lunacy into workable law. A Bill is produced. It is inevitably full of contradictions and riddled with inconsistencies and is incapable of reflecting what happens in the real world. Comments are then made about it by practical people in the real world and points are raised in Committee by my assiduous hon. Friends, and even by some Conservative Members. At that point, Ministers realise that they need to amend the Bill——
§ Mr. Tim Smith (Beaconsfield)
Can the hon. Gentleman name one provision in the Companies Bill that fits that description?
§ Mr. Dobson
I am told by my hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould), who has spent rather more time on this subject than I have, that the Insolvency Bill suffered from the same shortcomings and, as we know, the Financial Services Bill needed massive corrections at this stage. If the Bill did not need correcting—if it had no shortcomings—why were 1,000 amendments tabled? Hundreds were produced in Committee——
§ Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)
One of that series of amendments was designed to deal with the crookedness of the City and the casino economy. As my hon. Friend knows only too well, because his constituency is close to the City, crookedness in the City is growing rapidly. Every time the Government introduce such a Bill, they have to amend it substantially. This latest Bill is an attempt to keep the legislation in line with the present crookedness of Lloyd's and others. Hence the tabling of several, if not scores of, Government amendments. A number of things are happening at Lloyd's—money is being lost by so-called "names" and there are prospective losses. The Government are trying to tighten things up because some of the accountants whom the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Smith) represents have not been doing their jobs properly. Ferranti is a good example.
§ Mr. Dobson
I quite agree. As ever, my hon. Friend puts it in a nutshell. These shoddily drafted Bills are brought before the House, and then hundreds of amendments are produced in Committee and on Report, here and in the House of Lords. As I have said, more than a thousand were tabled to the Companies Bill.
For some reason that I cannot understand, the Government purport to be surprised—and they certainly panic—when hon. Members insist on doing their job properly and on scrutinising the legislation. Some amendments are politically contentious, others are not. For instance, I assume that Conservative Members want to catch the fraudsters—we certainly do—so it would be as well if the technicalities of the Bill permitted them to be caught, prosecuted and gaoled on the basis of proper evidence, not of confessions.
Some amendments are not politically contentious but are produced in response to points made by the Opposition, and we welcome that. The Minister responsible for the Children Bill has responded to many points made by outside organisations and hon. Members in the Committee to try to improve the Bill. However, the fact that he has produced amendments does not guarantee that they will achieve what they are intended to achieve. All of them need to be examined carefully to ensure that they are soundly worded.
1083 This applies with equal or even greater force to Bills such as the Children Bill, the aspirations behind which we all support. All hon. Members want the time and opportunity to do this part of the job that we were elected to do. The Government have failed to provide the time, partly because no conceivable amount of time can compensate for the sloppy drafting and the multitude of amendments made in Committee and in the House—in some cases only a matter of hours before they are to be debated.
§ Mr. David Martin (Portsmouth, South)
When will the hon. Gentleman come to the real reason for the guillotine, which has nothing to do with the merits of the Companies Bill or the Children Bill and everything to do with those who are supposed to be in charge of the Opposition losing control of their wild boys over the issue of coal? I sat up a great many hours last night waiting to get on with the Bill and saw the 10 o'clock business motion opposed by the Opposition when we wanted to get on with discussion of the real issues.
§ Mr. Dobson
Apparently, everything was caused by some wild coalmen, but I did not see any about last night.
§ Mr. Dobson
I was here most of yesterday evening. I popped out at about midnight, just about the time when the Leader of the House shuffled in and caused us to hold those debates——
§ Mr. Nicholas Bennett
The hon. Gentleman has just said that he was here most of the evening. Can he explain why he did not vote in any of the Divisions?
§ Mr. Dobson
The hon. Gentleman is witless, blind and stupid, because I did vote in some of the Divisions. He had better start by finding the right Hansard.
§ Mr. Frank Haynes (Ashfield)
We had a serious debate yesterday on business contributions to the Conservative party. The Conservative Members all stood up blocking our new clause and wasting time, but our case was first class and we were doing our job as an Opposition—[Interruption.] I hope that the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Smith) will listen to me, because I am responsible to the Chair, not to him.
The new clause would have done a first-class job on behalf of a community that is crying out for it. The Government have told the trade unions to hold ballots on raising money for a political levy to give to the Labour party, but when we suggested that companies should consult shareholders with a ballot on whether they wanted the business to contribute to Conservative party funds they turned down the idea. Conservative Members went into the Lobby and voted against it. They were filibustering nearly all night and they should be ashamed of themselves.
§ Mr. Dobson
In his usual mild-mannered and persuasive way, my hon. Friend has put his finger on the Government's double standards where contributions to the Labour party by trade unions are concerned. Trade unions must set up a separate fund and conduct ballots of all their members, and if they decide to set up such a fund 1084 and ask their members to make contributions every one of them can opt out. Last night the Tories stuck by their position, as ever, that there should not be a ballot, a separate fund or opting out for companies.
As the point made by hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield (Mr. Haynes) shows, there are other double standards. We put forward a new clause; Conservative Members can speak against it at considerable length and then vote against it. Such debates are legitimate, as are such votes, but when we want to debate and vote on amendments that the Government table they do not want us to. Apparently we are breaking their rules. The rule of this arrogant Government is, "We tell everyone what to do, including the House." But as a distinguished former Cabinet colleague of the Leader of the House told me yesterday, the Government have forgotten one iron rule: in the part of the Session coming up to July, the Government have the Commons over a barrel; in the spill-over period, the Commons have the Government over a barrel. So the Government would be wise to run their business so as not to expose themselves as badly as they have done on this occasion by their incompetence.
§ Mr. Dobson
I shall not give way now—I am sure that we shall hear the hon. and learned Gentleman's point later.
These guillotines will make matters worse. They will prevent the House from doing justice to either of these important Bills. Forty-six seconds per new clause or amendment for the Children Bill cannot be right. Tonight we shall vote, not against the Children Bill, but against the guillotine that imposes those 46 seconds.
§ Mr. Roger Sims (Chislehurst)
I rise to support the motion, but with somewhat mixed feelings. One of those feelings is relief that my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House has stepped in to save the Children Bill, progress on which was being followed anxiously by many organisations. There seemed to be a real danger that the Bill could he wrecked by a handful of hon. Members who may claim to represent the interests of the miners but are clearly not concerned with the interests of children in this country.
My other feeling is one of sadness. In 15 years in the House I cannot recall a Bill for which a timetable motion was less appropriate. The Bill is the product of years of inquiries. White Papers, campaigns and representations by people and organisations. It was given detailed scrutiny in both Houses in a non-partisan atmosphere. That we should have been expected to complete the final stages of such an important Bill in the small hours of the morning merely because the Opposition insisted on inserting into our business a debate on the economy was regrettable. That we are now obliged to complete the Bill as the second business on a Friday and subject to a timetable is to be deplored.
I know the frustrations of being in opposition. I sat on the Opposition Benches for five years. Happily, in our system we do not engage in fisticuffs or worse, and even the use of strong language is somewhat circumscribed. I can therefore well understand why some people feel that they want to demonstrate their annoyance and, sometimes, their sense of outrage at some of the things that the Government of the day are doing.
1085 To use parliamentary procedural tactics to delay and upset Government business is perfectly legitimate. When we were in opposition we did that individually and collectively, but such tactics need to be employed with discretion. It is one thing for the Opposition to use all the available means to impede a measure which is clearly contrary to their political philosophy, but it is quite another to do so in respect of legislation which is not subject to party political differences and is supported in all parts of the country. There can he no better example of that than the Children Bill.
We should have been able to finish consideration of the Bill on Tuesday night. Some Opposition Members would no doubt argue that we could have done so. The evidence that I heard and saw suggested that we could well have spent a long and unproductive night and possibly part of the morning. We saw that pattern beginning to emerge last night. I do not suggest that Oppossition Front Bench Members or their colleagues with an interest in the Bill would have been party to any such tactics, but we all know that a small number of hon. Members can frustrate progress.
We also know that agreements and understandings, however well meant, do not always work. The shadow Leader of the House, the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson), made the plea that nobody had approached him to come to some understanding about how the Bill should be handled. However, I am afraid that we have learned that such understandings are worthless. We have seen that the Opposition simply cannot control their Members. In the circumstances, the Government's business managers had no alternative but to introduce a timetable motion. Its term allow three hours, which should be adequate to consider the amendments. Despite all the statistics expounded by the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, the hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that many of the amendments are purely technical and that many of them meet points made in Committee.
§ Mr. Dobson
I agree with the hon. Gentleman that many of the amendments are technical. Does he agree that there is considerable evidence that many of them are technically faulty and incorrect and need to be improved if the Bill is to work properly? I am rather fortified in my view about that by a former Tory Cabinet Minister who is now a Member of the House of Lords. He sought me out and told me how much he agreed with what I had said during a debate on a previous guillotine motion when I talked about this very aspect.
§ Mr. Sims
I have seen few amendments to amendments tabled by the Opposition. If they have spotted faults they should have drawn attention to them in that manner.
The three hours proposed in the motion will give us more time to discuss the Bill than the time allowed in the original understanding between the two sides. I have no great complaint about the three hours, but it is unfortunate—to put it no higher—that we shall have to discuss these matters tomorrow under some pressure of time. That is a sad end to the proceedings on the Children Bill which up to now had shown Parliament at its best. It is a turn of events which discredits the Labour party—a matter which does not distress me particularly—but it also discredits the House, which distresses me considerably.
§ Mr. Stuart Bell (Middlesbrough)
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Chislehurst (Mr. Sims) because I know how hard he has worked on the Children Bill for many years. He was right when he said that its history goes back several years through a variety of law commissions and reviews of the law. It also had the impetus of the Cleveland child abuse crisis. I do not agree with the views that he expressed in the latter part of his speech because they contradict some of his earlier statements when he said that the guillotine had been used by previous Governments.
The tactics that we have seen this week were used in the past by the Conservatives. When the deputy Leader of the House referred to the Churchill-Eden era, he reminded me of my first visit to the House of Commons. I was in the Strangers' Gallery and listened to Sydney Silverman advancing an argument during a debate on a guillotine motion not dissimilar to that advanced by the hon. Member for Chislehurst. He said that there are times when the guillotine is appropriate and times when it is not.
Without wishing to incur the wrath of Conservative Members I can say that I think that the guillotine was appropriate in 1976 when we had to push the shipbuilding and dockyard nationalisation schemes through. We had to do that because of the tactics used by the Conservative Opposition at that time. They did everything that they could legitimately and within parliamentary means to prevent a Labour Government with a mandate putting on the statute book two vital elements of their legislative programme. The guillotine was used at that time by the then Leader of the House, my right hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot). In 1968 he and Enoch Powell frustrated the will of a Labour Government about the reform of the House of Lords and they used parliamentary tactics to do that.
We all know that the guillotine goes back to the time when Irish Members frustrated the business of the House to such an extent that it had to be used to make progress. The Children Bill was at the heart of the speech by the hon. Member for Chislehurst. That Bill reflects what the Lord Chancellor said, that the upbringing of children is the fundamental responsibility of parents. The object of the Bill is to establish rights for children and parents and to look at the erosion of parental rights. It looks at the means by which we can protect children such as Doreen Mason, about whom the hon. Member for Chislehurst spoke, and Kimberley Carlile, about whom I have spoken in the past.
We all know that children are at risk in society, and that we must protect them while not intruding in family life as we understand it. That is the balance that we sought to strike in Committee. The Bill was non-political and the Minister of State and the Solicitor-General took us through it on a non-political basis. My hon. Friend the Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke) took us through it carefully. We had long discussions and amendments proposed by Back Benchers were considered by the Government and by civil servants. After careful consideration we came up with a Bill which we hope, with foresight rather than hindsight, will protect children and will do so without unnecessary intrusions. In Committee we saw the abolition of the place of safety order which was used extensively in Cleveland and we created an emergency 1087 protection order and child assessment orders for the protection of children. We had legitimate debate on all those matters.
The shenanigans on Tuesday evening which prevented us from moving forward were in a sense a parliamentary occasion. I have often looked upon my hon. Friends the Members for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) and for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) as being rather like Blucher at the battle of Waterloo. They plough in from the side, change the nature of our business, make their point and then go across and shake the hand of the Duke of Wellington and a great victory has been won. We are all more aware today of the Associated Ports (No. 2) Bill than we were two days ago.
I gave a commitment to the National Union of Mineworkers in Durham that I would support them in their efforts to prevent a coal terminal coming to Middlesbrough. I did that as part of the strategy to have proper planning for all our energy requirements and to keep the Durham coal field, with its 10,000 miners, going. Therefore, I was not particularly enamoured of any technique on the Floor of the House to try to prevent the Children Bill going through.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz) said, at 1.30 in the morning we were prepared to stay here throughout the night. In the six years that I have been in Parliament, there have been many occasions when the Opposition have taken the Government through the night, through to 1.30 the following day, and the Government have lost the business of the House for that day. We had assurances from those who were wishing to make a point on the Associated British Ports (No. 2) Bill that they would not prevent the Children Bill from reaching its remaining stages by the close of business.
The Government had their quorum in place. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, East (Mr. Madden) said, there were aye votes of 101 and 102 at 1.30 in the morning. The Opposition were prepared to go through the night, and if we had done so the Children Bill would have gone through its remaining stages in this House. My hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East made that proposition to the Minister, but other decisions had been made, and the Government moved the adjournment of the House. Until tonight, when the Leader of the House referred to discussions with the usual channels, I had thought that there had been discussions through the usual channels and that we could reach a reasonable agreement on the remaining stages of the Bill that would have allowed us the proper amount of time to discuss it.
§ Mr. Mellor
As the hon. Gentleman knows, I hold him in great respect generally, and particularly on the issue of children. He has had the grace to acknowledge that a group of Members with no great interest in the Children Bill took action because they wanted to make a point. Does the hon. Gentleman really think that it would be in the right spirit of the debate on the Bill that had otherwise proceeded so sensibly that we should have to run the gauntlet of people ready to have a Division on matters of no substance in order to make a point? In those circumstances, is it not better to get back to a framework of discipline, within which we can take a common-sense approach to the Bill?
§ Mr. Bell
I understand the point that the Minister is making, because there is no doubt that we would have had a disruptive evening, with votes on a variety of amendments. However, our view is that it was up to the House of Commons to force a passage through such obstacles and to discuss the amendments as best we could. All the Opposition Members who had served on the Committee were in their place. For example, my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell), who had tabled new clause 10 dealing with the rights of grandparents, was there, as were those who supported him. I agree with the Minister that we would have had to run the gauntlet, but we were prepared to be here and to have that discussion over and above what was happening on the sidelines, with Blucher coming in from the wings.
As the hon. Member for Chislehurst and my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) have said, we are now left with 46 seconds for each amendment. Many of them are technical amendments, but we have lost control over the remaining stages of the Children Bill, and we shall not be able to cover those final amendments in the way that we would have done if we had had a proper Report stage. If we had a proper debate, we could pick up, even at this late stage, the rucks in the texture, as Lord Denning once described parliamentary evasion or lack of clarity. In the final stages of the Bill, we have lost the opportunity to exercise foresight, rather than hindsight.
The guillotine represents the power of the Executive over the Legislature and the Opposition must submit to that power because we do not have a majority. However that power should be used sparingly and wisely. It ought not to be used simply because the quorum of Conservative Members who had to be in the Palace of Westminster for the duration of the business wanted to get home early. The time of 1.30 in the morning may seem late to members of the public, but hon. Members on both sides of the House know that it is not late in parliamentary terms. The power to guillotine was used unwisely on this occasion. I can only hope that, in the final stages of the Bill, the other place will look carefully at the amendments that we have not been able to go through properly so that when the Bill reaches the statute book and is used to protect children and parents in the best possible way it will be as good as if it had left the House of Commons without being guillotined.
§ Mr. David Hinchliffe (Wakefield)
I am particularly angry at the guillotine motion because, along with others who are here tonight, I served on the Standing Committee on the Children Bill and both sides of the Committee played a constructive part in bringing forward progressive helpful and long-overdue legislation. I am angry about the way in which the Government have tried to deflect responsibility for the shambles that has occurred in their business management. They have had plenty of opportunities to allow time for the Bill to be properly considered at a sensible time of day rather than in the middle of the night. Now we have just 46 seconds for each amendment.
I am worried about that because a number of important amendments have still to be discussed. I accept that many of the amendments are technical, so there will possibly be no debate on them and they will be nodded through. However, a number deal with detailed concerns. For 1089 example, new clause 10 deals with grandparents. Like many other hon. Members, I have constituents who are grandparents and who feel deeply aggrieved at the way in which the law affects them and their relationship with their grandchildren. The granddaughter of a woman who lives near to me has recently been adopted, and the grandmother no longer has contact with the child whom she raised for the first six years of the child's life. I feel strongly about that and I know that both the child and the grandmother also do. This is a deeply emotional issue for many people. Many other hon. Members have similar cases, and some that are even more heart rending.
I am concerned about the rights of children in care, which are affected by a number of amendments that remain to be discussed. I have experience in social work and I have seen how children get into care and how our treatment of those children negates basic human rights. I am particularly concerned about care-leavers because, as a result of the way in which the Government have changed the rules in social security, vast numbers of young people are left vulnerable to exploitation when they leave care. I hope to raise this issue when we debate tomorrow two of the amendments that I have tabled. However, I suspect that they will be dealt with only briefly. Only yesterday I was talking to a probation officer who told me of the way in which the Government's changes in social security legislation, which have changed single payments to a loan, have resulted in one client, a young girl who had left care, going out as a prostitute to get some furniture for her flat. That is happening directly as a result of the Government's policy.
I respect the hon. Member for Chislehurst (Mr. Sims), who made an important contribution to the Bill. However, he seems to see the legislation in narrow terms. He sees it as being the answer to problems, but wider issues, many related to the Government's policies, should be addressed.
I know that there is concern about the exclusion orders, or ouster orders. I have experience of social security work, and I mentioned this case in Committee at some length. I had to remove a girl whose sister had made allegations about sexual interference by the mother's boyfriend. It was an awful experience. I had to take police officers to surround the house, get hold of the 12-year-old girl who had just come out of hospital after having her appendix removed, and take her into care. The law is wrong in such cases. The person who should be removed is the perpetrator of the abuse, not the child who was the victim. We have to do someting about that, and we cannot do it on the nod. It is criminal to allow only 46 seconds to discuss such serious issues and I am appalled at what democracy has come down to.
§ Mr. Vaz
My hon. Friend will recall that, a week ago, in discussions with the Minister of State, hon. Members on both sides of the House said that they were concerned that we would not get the full two days that we were promised to discuss the provisions of the Bill. Clearly, we shall not get those days. I can see only one Tory Back Bench Member who served on the Standing Committee here this afternoon, although others have issued press statements about this matter. If they were honest, they would tell the House that they had originally asked for more time to discuss this measure.
§ Mr. Hinchliffe
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. I well recall the meeting that we had in the Cathedral room 1090 at the Department of Health the week before last when the hon. Member for Batley and Spen (Mrs. Peacock) criticised the way in which the Government were arranging the business and causing the Children Bill to be considered in the early hours of the morning. The hon. Lady opposed that because she considered it to be unsatisfactory.
§ Mr. Sims
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will agree that, it having been arranged originally that we should have two full days to debate the Bill, his right hon. and hon. Friends then insisted that there should be a full day's debate on the economy. That was why the Government had to make the arrangement that they did.
§ Mr. Hinchliffe
I shall deal with that argument in a few minutes. There is a clear connection between what happens to the economy of our society and what happens to children in that society. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Chislehurst fails to recognise that connection.
It has been alleged that time has been wasted during oar consideration of the Bill. When the Minister replies, I challenge him to produce one example of time wasting in Committee. I attended virtually every sitting when the Bill was being considered in Committee and I do not recall an irrelevant speech being made from either side of the Committee. The debate which took place on the Floor of the House the other night on day care, for example, was extremely interesting. Some valuable comments were made by hon. Members who had not hitherto been involved in the Bill. I read the report of the debate in Hansard and I could not find one area of it that was not directly relevant to the issues that were before us.
§ Mr. Mellor
Although the hon. Gentleman and I have disagreed about certain parts of the Bill, and although we can always argue about how long it should take to formulate a point, I am not criticising him or any of his hon. Friends who served in Committee for advancing their arguments. Our consideration of the Bill in Committee remains for me one of the more pleasurable experiences of my time in this place. If the hon. Gentleman is being fair, and I know that he wants to be, he must explain why it was that at the beginning of the second day of our consideration of the Bill on Report an entirely uncontroversial amendment was made the subject of a Division. The Division was called by two hon. Members who had played no previous part in our consideration of the Bill. It was clear, as the hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bell) has conceded today, and as the hon. Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke) conceded on Tuesday night, that that was part of a tactic that would have continued and would have had the effect of souring the atmosphere. The hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Hinchliffe) cannot delude us about that. However sincere he and his hon. Friends who were members of the Committee which considered the Bill may be, others were determined to make a monkey of the business of the House, and that is a fact.
§ Mr. Hinchliffe
I am happy to tackle head-on the issue of the private Bill to which the Minister has referred obliquely. There is a direct connection between the implications of that Bill and the welfare of children. I shall come to that. The Minister is seeking to dodge the reality that the Government have their priorities wrong. Bearing in mind the time that they have had and the issues that we have debated—many of them have been far less serious 1091 than those raised by the Children Bill—there has been sufficient time for the Bill to be considered fully at a normal time of day. It is the Government, not the Opposition, who have their priorities wrong.
The hon. Member for Chislehurst referred to the debate on the economy which took place yesterday. It is not the Opposition's fault that there is a slight problem with the balance of trade. It is not our fault that there is a trade deficit, that inflation is increasing and that interest rates are going through the roof. Equally, it is not our fault that people are having to go on council house waiting lists because they cannot meet mortgage repayments. All these factors have a direct bearing on children. There are families in my constituency who will become homeless because their houses are being repossessed because they cannot afford the huge repayments which are the result of increased interest rates. If Conservative Members—[Interruption.]It seems that some hon. Members wish me to name names. If they wish to see some of the details, I shall be happy to supply them. I shall certainly do so if the people concerned are prepared to have their names put forward. I shall be quite happy to take Conservative Members to see these people. I do not make up these stories. Some of us have surgeries every week—in some instances, several times a week—and we meet the people. We are aware of the day-to-day realities in our constituencies as a result of the Government's actions. There is a direct connection between the economy and the welfare of children, and it angers my hon. Friends and me that that is not recognised by the Government.
§ Mr. Mellor
I took the hon. Gentleman's word that he wanted seriously to explore the matters which lie behind the Children Bill. I put the argument to him again. How can he explain the decision taken at the beginning of the second day of consideration of the Bill on Report by two of his hon. Friends, who had hitherto taken no part in the consideration of the Bill, to call a Division on a purely technical amendment? Does he not know as well as I do that it was common currency and discussion around the House that his two hon. Friends intended to call Divisions throughout the night if we had gone on with our consideration of the Bill? That was the truth of the matter.
§ Mr. Hinchliffe
To be fair, following the Minister's previous intervention I said that I would deal with that matter. It is something about which I feel strongly. I happen to understand and sympathise with the actions of my hon. Friends the Members for Doncaster, North (Mr. Welsh) and for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner). I suspect that my hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster, North, who called the Division to which the Minister has referred, was not fully aware of the issues raised by the clause. When he was made aware of them, he did not vote against the clause, and nor did anyone else. No one wished to see that clause defeated. My hon. Friends and I continued to support it. There would have been Divisions only on issues that were contested, and there were a number of those. There are serious issues which separate the two sides of the House.
§ Ms. Hilary Armstrong (Durham, North-West)
Perhaps my hon. Friend will care to put to the Minister that the debate which we were due to have on the evening of Tuesday following the Division to which he has referred was on new clause 10, which concerned grandparents. 1092 There would have been no rogue vote on that new clause. Hon. Members had come to the Chamber ready to debate the new clause. We were no later reaching it than we expected earlier. It was clear, however, that the Government would not be able to keep their troops in the House. The Government were concerned and they brought the consideration of the Bill to an end. There would have been no rogue votes. The debate on grandparents would have taken place whatever the circumstances and whatever the attitude of my hon. Friends to any other measure.
§ Mr. Hinchliffe
My hon. Friend is correct. My hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster, North, who called what has been described as the rogue vote, is a grandfather. I know that he feels deeply about the issues that we were to debate and the surrounding issues. I have no doubt that he would have contributed to the debate, as he did to the debate on day care.
The central issue is that the Children Bill deals with the needs of the most disadvantaged in our society. Unfortunately, the Government are attaching less priority to it than to numerous other measures that are designed further to advantage the advantaged. Privatisation measures are designed to allow those who have plenty to have even more. That is the kernel of the debate. Under this Government Bills which deal with human need, such as the Children Bill, take second place to Bills which deal with human greed.
I shall give an example. We learnt today that next Wednesday we are to be faced with a squalid little measure, the Associated British Ports (No. 2) Bill. Can anyone explain why that private Bill is being given prime time?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker(Mr. Harold Walker)
Order. The hon. Gentleman cannot go into those matters now. Those issues are not referred to in the motion before the House. The hon. Gentleman must confine his remarks to that motion.
§ Mr. Hinchliffe
With great respect, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I accept your ruling. As one who has been a Member of this place for only two years, I find it strange that we have to sit up for half the night, as we did on Tuesday, to discuss disadvantaged children, the care of children and child abuse because, we are told, there is no other Government time when time can he made available for a squalid private Bill which involves the interests of certain hon. Members. Hon. Members have been on freebies to South Africa——
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I remind the hon. Gentleman of what I said a few minutes ago, that he must confine his remarks to the motion before us. The matters to which he referred are set down for debate next week, and I think that we had better wait for next week to discuss them.
§ Mr. Skinner
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I know that the House is discussing the effects of our proceedings last night and the fact that the Government are now in a complete shambles, but I want the Government spokesman to tell us when the Government will make a statement about the resignation of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, which has just been announced on the tapes. Why is it that in the middle of a debate, which has been brought about because of the 1093 shambles within the Government, there is no spokesperson available to tell us about the dramatic resignation of the Chancellor? Why is not the Prime Minister in the Chamber to tell the House why that has happened? Has the Chancellor been driven out by Sir Alan Walters? Who will succeed the Chancellor? Those are very important questions
I know that the debate is important and that my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Hinchliffe) is doing a fair splash job on the question of the guillotine, but the resignation of the Chancellor is a most important matter. Obviously there has been a dramatic confrontation between the Prime Minister and the Chancellor during the past few hours, which has reached its untimely conclusion with the resignation of the Chancellor. Why is there no one on the Government Front Bench ready to explain what has happened? They have a duty to explain to this House why the Chancellor has resigned.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
The House knows that I have no responsibility for the resignation of the Chancellor.
§ Mr. Cryer
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Surely you have a responsibility if a request is made by the Government to make a statement about the Chancellor's resignation. You would have to consider whether and how to fit in an emergency statement with the business of the day. The question would then arise whether any statement would come out of guillotine motion time because we have recently resolved to have a three-hour debate. Not only would there need to be consideration of whether a statement on this important economic matter should be allowed, but on what effect it would have on this three-hour debate. I seek your guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It is a time of great economic crisis and I wish to know whether the Prime Minister has sought leave to come to the House to make a statement on what appears to be the biggest crisis of this Parliament.
§ Mr. Dobson
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The Leader of the House was swift to come to the Chamber at midnight to make a statement. He is here now, and I wonder whether he has approached you and confirmed what is now being reported on the tapes and on BBC television news—that the Chancellor has resigned in the middle of one of the most profound economic crises that this country has faced. It is right and proper that a Government Minister, and preferably the Prime Minister—who is First Lord of the Treasury—should come to the House and explain what is happening.
§ Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea, West)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It is clear that we are trapped in the procedures of the House. The debate is due to continue for a set time, yet decisions will be taken at the end of that time that will pre-determine what happens tomorrow. I do not wish further to venture into the seriousness of the present situation, but it is clear that the House will wish to have an opportunity to question and to discuss the matter. Either there must be a statement this evening or there must be one early tomorrow.
In order to ensure that this debate can proceed in a sensible manner, would it not make sense to have a brief Adjournment of the House while the usual channels discuss the way in which we can deal both with the business before us and with the problems that we all wish to address?
§ Mr. Bell
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Although I understand your position, the Opposition sat through Prime Minister's questions this afternoon when the right hon. Lady gave her backing to the Chancellor. The question is whether, when the right hon. Lady made that statement, she knew of the pending resignation and whether she was deceiving the House. We have a right to know whether she made that statement in the full knowledge of the facts or whether she was unaware of the facts.
It is for the Government of the day to control the business of the House and to make the necessary statement at this time. We sympathise with our hon. Friends who are trying to discuss the guillotine motion, but in the national interest it is right that the Prime Minister should make a statement now, especially in the light of the probable impact on interest rates. The Prime Minister said today that the Chancellor had her full support and that the civil servant at No. 10 did not have that same support. It is therefore right and proper not only that there should be a statement, but that that statement should be made by the Prime Minister.
§ Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. May I press on you the suggestion made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams) that there should be a short adjournment of the House so that the matter can be dealt with sensibly and reasonably? It is extremely unsatisfactory for the House not to be told the full facts. A proper statement must be made at the earliest opportunity. There would be little point in continuing to raise points of order and to force the Government to make a statement. It would be simple for the Leader of the House to stand up and ask for an adjournment, which would enable the Prime Minister to come to the House and make a clear statement about what has happened. It is the right hon. Lady's duty to report to the House before making statements outside.
§ Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Good news does, indeed, move quickly. As the Leader of the House and the Chief Whip are both here, it is right to ask them for a statement. The implications of the Chancellor—even this Chancellor—resigning will be profound upon the stock market and on international confidence in the pound. I assure you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that many of my constituents will be worried about their gold stocks, their shares and all the other assets that they have managed to accumulate during the past 10 years. In those circumstances—[Interruption.] I note, Sir, that I have your close and undivided attention.
I suggest that there is a statement because I, for one, am becoming rather concerned about the fate of the Chancellor. He is not the most lovable person, but if he jumped from No. 11 Downing street there would now be a very large hole in the road, which could be catastrophic for the Prime Minister as she rushes back in her bullet-proof chauffeured limousine. It is because we feel such great concern for the Chancellor that we must know exactly what has happened to the poor fellow. He must be having a very rough time.
§ Dr. John Reid (Motherwell, North)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it not opportune to remind the Leader of the House that less than three hours 1095 ago the Leader of the Opposition asked a specific question about the Chancellor and about part-time advisers—[Interruption] We are completely in the dark. The Prime Minister gave no sign of what was to happen. It is a crucial time, yet we have absolutely no idea of who is now to marshal the economic resources of this country. However, a few moments ago I did notice that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) had been called from the Chamber, so perhaps interesting developments are taking place. Because this matter was discussed no more than three hours ago and because of the grave implications for the stock market and the economy, we are in order to demand a statement to the House.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I remind the House that the matters being raised are not the responsibility of the Chair. Equally, I well understand the seriousness of the situation. I very much hope that hon. Members will bear that in mind in their points of order.
§ Mr. Cryer
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am grateful to you for calling me as I have a genuine point of order—as, indeed, has every Opposition Member. There has been a suggestion that the House should adjourn while we consider the economic crisis that is engulfing the country because of the incompetence of the Government's conduct of affairs, the resignation of the Chancellor and the issues arising from the guillotine motion that is currently before the House.
My right hon.Friend the Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams) requested an adjournment of the House, and I wonder whether that would be treated as a dilatory motion or whether it would be accepted. If it were to be treated as a dilatory motion under the terms of the guillotine, it could be moved only by a Government spokesman. It is incumbent upon the Government to rearrange the proceedings of the House and to make a statement. It is outrageous that such events can happen and that the arguing and bickering between No. 10 and No. 11 about Professor Walters can result in the resignation of the Chancellor, with the information being given to television and radio but not to this House. We are the accountable body.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
The hon. Gentleman began by saying that he had a genuine point of order, but he is now raising matters that have nothing remotely to do with me. Only a Minister can move a dilatory motion and even that would not make provision for added injury time.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman knows that he must keep his seat while I am standing.
That would not of itself add to the time allowed for the guillotine motion.
§ Mr. Dobson
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. With the exception of the wind-up speeches and the interrupted speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Hinchliffe), there are not many Members any longer wishing to take part in the debate on the guillotine motion.
1096 I seek your advice, Mr. Deputy Speaker. If we are to ensure that the opportunity arises within the rules of order for a statement to be made, would it not be necessary for us to pass the guillotine motion? As I understand it, that would then foreclose the proceedings for the rest of the day. I hope that either by your ruling, or by discussions through the usual channels, we can ensure that the most senior member of the Government has the opportunity to come to the Chamber to explain what has happened and why, in the middle of an economic crisis, the Chancellor of the Exchequer has resigned. That is a most important matter to the British people and to people abroad. It will affect markets and it must be cleared up. It will not be satisfactory to hon. Members on either side of the House for the situation to be explained and clarified by Mr. Bernard Ingham. The place for it to be clarified and reported to the British people is in the elected House of Commons. That is our job.
§ Sir Geoffrey Howe
Further to the points of order in which Opposition Members have expressed some interest, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I would suggest two things. First, the resignation, or proffered resignation, of a member of the Government does not normally lead to the making of a statement, and so it does not follow that that should happen as a matter of course. Secondly, it would certainly not follow that there should be any deflection of the business before the House for a variety of reasons, including those referred to by the shadow Leader of the House. I suggest that the business of the House, the debate now taking place and that which is to follow, should proceed. I shall see whether I can consider through the usual channels the possibilities that have been suggested, but I do not want to imply that the business would be interrupted or any presumption of a statement on the matter. However, I can show my willingness to listen.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. It might be helpful if the House were to reflect on what the Leader of the House has said. The Chair has not yet received any intimation from the Government of a wish that a statement be made, but if there were such an intimation the Chair would have to consider it seriously. I am advised that whatever happens, at 7.46 pm, when the three hours provided for the guillotine motion expire, the Question must be put, notwithstanding the seriousness of other matters that have intervened. I am sure that the House will wish to consider whether it would like to have a view from the Front Bench spokesmen before the House is required to make its decision on the guillotine motion. In the meantime, the Chair will listen to any further genuine points of order and, while those are being dealt with, those responsible may wish to consider the appropriate response in the circumstances.
§ Mr. Dobson
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I recognise all the problems that the Leader of the House faces and the dilemma that you face. May we have a clear ruling on whether, if the guillotine motion were to be passed, the Government could interrupt the then guillotined business in order to make a statement? We should not proceed with the discussion on the guillotine motion until we know that.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Let me respond to that immediately. I have made it clear to the House that the 1097 time available for the guillotine motion will expire at 7.46 pm and at that time, if not before, the Chair will be required to put the Question. If the hon. Gentleman is asking what might be the situation if there were a request for a statement to be made at a time after that, doubtless, as in the past, arrangements can be made for a subsequent statement to be made.
§ Mr. Dave Nellist (Coventry, South-East)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Can you confirm that under normal circumstances any hon. Member wishing to make an application under Standing Order No. 20 would have had to have submitted an application to Mr. Speaker before 12 o'clock today unless circumstances arose after that time which, in the view of the Chair, were sufficiently urgent to allow a later application? Must not the Chancellor's resignation, and hence the collapse of the Government's direction of economic policy, be the one occasion in this Session when an application under Standing Order No. 20 from me or from one of my hon. Friends should be accepted by the Chair and the business of the day set aside for a debate, if for no other reason than to find out whether the deputy Prime Minister is going to get his house back?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Our Standing Orders rule out any application under Standing Order No. 20 being made in the course of this day's sitting. Equally, an application for an emergency debate under Standing Order No. 20 cannot be made on a Friday. If there were a request for a statement to be made and the Chair conceded that a statement should be made after the conclusion of the motion that is before the House and before the first guillotine falls, it would take time out of that provided in the motion before the House.
§ Mr. Ron Leighton (Newham, North-East)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Can you give us some guidance? We are not sure who is running the country or who is speaking for the Government. Yesterday, we were assured by Ministers, and it was confirmed by the Prime Minister today, that advisers advise but Ministers decide. Now the Minister has resigned, so what credence can we give to the guarantees that have been given to us? The House of Commons needs to know who is running the Government. Is it the advisers or is it the Ministers? Are other Ministers going to resign? I want a clear statement in the House of Commons on the present position.
§ Mr. Tony Baldry (Banbury)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It will not go unnoticed in the country that the vast majority of these points of order are an abuse and that the Labour party's response was to start singing the "Red Flag" in Committee Room 10 and to turn this Chamber into something like a knockabout Whitehall farce.
§ Mr. Skinner
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Further complications have arisen during the past two or three minutes which make the passage of the guillotine motion on the Companies and Children Bills more problematical.
The Foreign Secretary has now been given the Chancellor's job. That being so, it could well be that the Leader of the House is going back to the Foreign Secretary's job. If that is the case, we have not got a Leader of the House to carry the guillotine through.
1098 I believe that the House needs to adjourn, because while this pack of dominoes is falling we are not sure which Minister is in what charge of which Department. I think it imperative at this point, as the Leader of the House has now left the Chamber—presumably to get the Foreign Secretary's job, his own job, back—for us to adjourn for the matter to be resolved.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Let me remind the House that these are very grave matters, which should be dealt with very seriously by the House.
§ Mr. Dobson
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. These are indeed very serious matters, and I think that that is all the more reason why it is right and proper for a senior Minister—whoever he may be at the moment—to come to the House and explain what is going on, who is being reshuffled and who has resigned. If the matter is to be dealt with properly, I think that the sitting should be briefly suspended to give the Government the opportunity to sort out who is going to make the statement, and then deal with this in a proper and seemly manner; otherwise, there is no possibility of the current debate continuing in any sensible way.
I hope that you will accept my request for a brief suspension of the sitting, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I think that there would be no objection on either side of the House.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. David Waddington)
Unaccustomed as I am to public speaking, Mr. Deputy Speaker, in an effort to help the House, may I tell the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) that serious consideration is now being given to the making of a statement at the end of the debate on the guillotine motion?
§ Mr. Williams
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. We are very grateful for the intervention: it was helpful. The question remains, however, not only of the statement but of who makes the statement. [Interruption.]
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. We could continue with such points of order interminably, and that would not help us. I should have thought that the House might have found the statement that has just been made very helpfully constructed.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. If, as now seems very likely, we will not be able to return immediately to the guillotine motion, and are going to lose time, it might make sense for the House to have a brief cooling-off period. I suspend the sitting for 10 minutes.
§ Sitting suspended.
§ On resuming——6.33 pm
§ Mr. Speaker
Procedurally there is no way in which we can change the motion before the House. The Question will have to be put at 7.46 pm. If the Government decide that a statement should be made, it could be made at that time. We should now proceed with the debate.
§ Mr. Dobson
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Further to your ruling, the Opposition agree entirely that the best way of dealing with this serious matter, following the brief suspension of the sitting, is that the Government should make a statement following the Division at the end of the debate. Therefore, we think that the debate should proceed.
§ Mr. Hinchliffe
I am grateful for the support that I have had from hon. Members during—[Interruption]
§ Mr. Hinchliffe
I was making the point—it now seems quite pertinent—that there is clearly a direct connection between the economic circumstances affecting many families, which are the direct consequences of the Government's policies, and the need to pursue some of the legal provisions that are contained within the Children Bill.
I wish to express my concern at the narrow view held by many Conservative Members concerning the way in which the legislation affects children. Clearly, we need to look at the reasons why young people are abused or have to be removed from home. It is clearly connected with the Government's policies on poverty, homelessness, the economy and unemployment. That is where my view differs from that of hon. Members who have criticised some of my hon. Friends from the miners group who, quite rightly, have been fighting valiantly the various ports Bills.
The issue concerning hon. Members—including myself—and others representing coalfield areas is how unemployment affects children, families and communities. In my area, communities have been wiped out as a direct result of the Government's policies on the coal industry. When the Government took office in 1979, within the Wakefield district 17,000 people were employed in 20 pits. That figure has now been reduced to some 3,000 employed at five pits. Fourteen thousand jobs have been wiped out, and that has a direct bearing on the prosperity of families, children and the lives that people lead. Therefore, I hope that hon. Members can see why some of my hon. Friends are concerned about the way in which children will be affected by the Bill coming before the House next week.
My constituency has been affected directly by pit closures. In addition, there has been a knock-on effect in the mining-engineering industry where 1,000 jobs have gone since 1979 in companies within my constituency supplying materials to the coal mining industry. It is important that we make the point that the ports Bills have a direct bearing on the worsening of the problems. I am deeply concerned about the impact those Bills will have on many coalfield communities in my area, the wider parts of Yorkshire and the midlands. The coalfield communities campaign said that if imports went ahead at projected levels 36 more pits would close.
§ Mr. Vaz
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. My hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Hinchliffe) and I have served for many hours on the Standing Committee of the Children Bill. The Prime Minister's Parliamentary Private Secretary was conducting a conversation in the corner of the Chamber but he has now gone. Surely it would be fair and proper for the House to listen to what my hon. Friend has to say.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. There has been a good deal of Back-Bench discussion on both sides of the House. That is understandable, but I think that we should hear what the hon. Gentleman has to say.
§ Mr. Skinner
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I want to make sure that my hon. Friend, who was rudely interrupted by a number of people, including myself, when we heard that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had resigned, should be listened to decently. When the Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Prime Minister comes in here, we know what his game is. He is doing two things. He is saying to the Government Back Benchers, "This is the line. The Chancellor of the Exchequer is saying that he wanted Alan Walters sacked. That is not true"—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. But he has not said it in the House or to me, so it is not a proceeding of Parliament. It is not a matter for the Chair.
§ Mr. Skinner
The second point, which is very important, concerns what happens in future. If the Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Prime Minister says to Conservative Back Benchers. "Say what I say and what the Prime Minister says", they do so, hoping to get a job in the reshuffle. There will be a number of jobs available in that reshuffle, so instead of listening to my hon. Friend they have been sorting out jobs for themselves in the Tory reshuffle.
§ Mr. Hinchliffe
I fully appreciate the points that have been made. I am concerned that there is a clear connection between the impact that the ports Bills will have on the coalfield communities in Yorkshire, north Derbyshire, the midlands and across the country, and the lives of families and children. I see a clear connection between what is contained in the Children Bill about the welfare of children and the action that has been taken by some of my hon. Friends to draw attention to the way in which the ports Bills will have a direct effect on people's lives in their constituencies.
If the ports Bill that we are to discuss next week in time that should have been accorded to the Children Bill and other Bills about the welfare of individuals goes ahead, 36 more pits will close and 51,000 jobs will go. Those jobs directly affect the lives of children for whom we are legislating in the Children Bill.
We differ in our views on child welfare in that Opposition Members believe that child abuse is not just about nasty people. It is about marital stress, marital problems, isolation, deprivation, poverty and, above all, unemployment. Research after research shows a clear connection between job losses—[Interruption]
§ Madam Deputy Speaker (Miss Betty Boothroyd)
Order. I would be very much obliged if those hon. Members who wish to carry on conversations would do so on the other side of the swing doors. We must now get on with the business of the House.
§ Mr. Hinchliffe
My voice is going, so I will conclude my remarks.
My central point is that the Government take a very narrow view of child protection. Child protection is not just about legal measures but involves wider social and economic policies. It is about poverty, inequality and unemployment. I urge the House not just to look at the 1101 symptoms that have been dealt with by the legislation, but at the causes. Some of those causes are sitting on the Government Benches tonight
§ Mr. Keith Vaz (Leicester, East)
The House should pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Hinchliffe), who began the discussion on the Children Bill and whose speech was interrupted by the suspension of the sitting. As many hon. Members on both sides of the House have said—and as the hon. Member for Chislehurst (Mr. Sims) said in his speech—the Children Bill was an all-party Bill. Indeed, if the former Chancellor of the Exchequer were here today, he would he supporting the measure. One of the features of the Children Bill is the fact that it has been a consensus Bill.
As we all know, it was introduced last November by the Lord Chancellor and received Second Reading in the House of Lords. At that stage it was clear that hon. Members on both sides of the House who were to take part in its deliberations would do so in a constructive and positive way. They would ensure that constructive comments were made concerning the improvement of the Bill. I am delighted to say that when the Bill was considered in the House of Lords and in Standing Committee the response of the lead Ministers both here and in the House of Lords has been remarkably fair.
I hope that it will not damage the hon. and learned Gentleman's career if I pay tribute to the Minister of State at the Department of Health, the hon. and learned Member for Putney (Mr. Mellor), for the way in which he has conducted himself during the passage of the Bill. He has been fair and reasonable. As a relatively new Member of the House, I have occasionally discussed with other more senior colleagues the way in which the Minister has approached the Bill. They were very surprised when I told them that the Minister adjourned the Committee over a crucial aspect of policy in the Bill—the rights of social workers to take emergency action to remove children during periods of stress. He adjourned the Committee and offered us his officials—Rupert and other people who have assisted in the passage of the Bill. We had a long discussion on ways in which we could improve the Bill.
Unfortunately, the Minister could not accept the amendment in my name and that of other hon. Members, which sought to introduce the child production notice. However, he listened to our comments, and came back during the recess and at the start of the new session with constructive suggestions. Until last Wednesday and Thursday he was prepared to discuss with us at great length the circumstances surrounding the child assessment orders. Indeed, he was so reasonable that when he had a visitor from America, the actor Charlton Heston, he was able to bring along Mr. Heston, who has played God in the movies on a number of occasions, and introduce him to members of the Committee. I was disappointed that the all-party nature of the Bill was broken when Charlton Heston was introduced to Conservative Members and not to the Opposition. However, despite that minor circumstance, the Committee proceeded in an all-party fashion.
When the matter was brought before the House last Monday, it was agreed that Members on both sides of the House should co-operate as best as they could in deciding on the many Government amendments. Some people may 1102 regard the fact that the Government tabled more than 400 amendments as a sign of weakness. I do not believe that that was the case. I think that it was a sign that those who drafted the Bill and were responsible for the conduct of the Bill were concerned to ensure that the Bill was perfect, simply because we have waited more than 100 years for this radical piece of legislation. The last time that child care law was reviewed to such an extent was more than 100 years ago.
The Bill is a radical measure. It seeks to repeal completely six existing statutes including landmark legislation such as the Children Act 1975. It amends 30 other pieces of legislation——
§ Mr. Skinner
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I know that it is an unusual day and that an afternoon is a long time in politics, but we were wondering about the consequential changes in the Government team. I happen to ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman, who is supposedly the Secretary of State for Health, who is on the Front Bench, whether he has become the Leader of the House. He says he does not know.
§ Madam Deputy Speaker
Order. Had the hon. Gentleman been doing his duty he should have been listening to the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz). No breach of our Standing Orders has been committed.
§ Mr. Skinner
Yes, it is. My hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz) is more interested than many others in the Children Bill, as he has demonstrated several times during the consideration of the Bill. Because he has reservations about the Bill—we have discussed it—he wants to know who is to pilot it through its latter stages. We all want to know. If the Secretary of State for Health has been shifted, there may be consequential changes for those who have piloted the Children Bill. I want to know from the Secretary of State for Health whether he is still in charge.
§ Madam Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Member for Leicester, East is articulate enough to ask the right questions for himself.
§ The Secretary of State for Health (Mr. Kenneth Clarke)
The hon. Gentleman will be reassured to learn that I am still Secretary of State for Health. I am present because the Bill is part of my departmental responsibility. It is being ably handled by my hon. and learned Friend the Minister for Health.
§ Mr. Vaz
Will the Secretary of State for Health nod from a sedentary position to indicate whether the Minister for Health will remain in charge of the Bill? I am inviting him to intervene, but he does not wish to do so. I see that he is giggling. The Secretary of State is such a charming person. He was described by my hon. Friend the Member 1103 for Monklands,West (Mr. Clarke) as "Mr. Nice"—or was it "Mr. Nasty"? I cannot remember the description. I assume that the hon. and learned Gentleman will remain in charge of the Bill.
The Bill was designed radically to reform the law on child care. It aims to replace six statutes and amend 30 others.
One of the features of the Bill when it was introduced by the Lord Chancellor in another place was the desire to ensure that it is enacted on a fixed date—1 April 1991. Those involved with child care matters were concerned about the large amount of legislation which had been passed by the House, some of it on an all-party basis, but which had not been brought into effect. Many of the provisions of the Children Act 1975, which was regarded as landmark legislation, have never been brought into effect, and because of the Children Bill they will never be brought into effect. It is important to remember the Lord Chancellor's explanation that when the Bill becomes law it should take effect immediately.
Last week, we had meetings with the Minister for Health and his officials to discuss the crucial rights of social workers to intervene in child care proceedings. With the assistance of the Family Rights Group—I place on record my gratitude for its assistance—I drafted new clause 5, which aimed to change the way in which social workers notify parents of their concerns. My proposal for a child production notice and the Minister's proposal for a child assessment order were discussed at half-past nine last Wednesday in the Cathedral room at the Department of Health. Twenty four hours later, in keeping with the way in which the Minister had approached the Bill, we again discussed with officials the possibility of limiting the amount of time for which the child assessment order should continue. The Minister was prepared to reduce the period of the child assessment order from 14 days to seven.
At that stage, hon. Members registered their first concerns that we were not to be given the full two days to discuss the Bill. One of the reasons why I and other Labour Members who served on the Committee were so co-operative with the Minister and did not speak unnecessarily in Committee was the promise that we would have much time to discuss the Bill on Report.
In Committee,we had lengthy discussions on a new clause moved by the hon. Member for Stockton, South (Mr. Devlin), who is not present, which introduced proposals for a family court. I was pleased to second the proposal because I believed that it was an all-party issue. We took an entire sitting of the Committee to discuss it. We did not press it to a Division because we wanted to consider on Report whether we had had sufficient time to convince the Government of the need for family courts. That is why, when we discussed the allocation of time with the Minister last week, we wanted the two full days that we were promised.
The hon. Member for Batley and Spen (Mrs. Peacock) said that she did not believe that it was right for the two days to be curtailed. At that stage—looking back, it was probably appropriate—the Opposition decided to hold a debate on the economy. Although hon. Members believed that it was necessary to discuss the Children Bill for a full day on Monday and a full day on Tuesday, we accepted the need to discuss the economy. Therefore, we did not 1104 dissent from the fact that a large chunk of Tuesday would be spent discussing the economy, and as a result of the resignation of the Chancellor today that seems to have been an appropriate decision.
We were told that the second discussion on the Children Bill would begin at 10 o'clock on Tuesday evening and continue until 2 am on Wednesday. We were happy to agree to that. Indeed, when I spoke to new clause 1 on Monday evening, I ensured that I kept my remarks to a minimum to enable other clauses to be debated at length. I further ensured that there was no dispute about the way in which we proceeded.
Labour Membersdid not oppose the proposal for child assessment orders, although there were differences among us about how best to proceed, because we did not believe that it would be helpful to do so. I could have pressed a vote on new clause 5. Indeed, I raised a point of order with Mr. Speaker and asked him to call a Division on new clause 5. He said that he did not feel that that was appropriate because the matter had been dealt with by the House agreeing to new clause 13. I did not press the matter to a vote because we had to discuss the 400 amendments introduced by the Government and because it was necessary to prepare for the debate, which was ably and eloquently dealt with by my hon. Friend the Member for Durham, North-West (Ms. Armstrong).
Other hon.Members came into the Chamber to take part in the debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Doran) raised the issue of transracial adoptions and gave us the benefit of his personal experience. Other hon. Members took part in the debate and raised issues which concerned them. My hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell) and others were concerned about grandparents' rights, which is an important issue. Grandparents were left out when representations and rights were allocated under the Children Act 1975.
Before I became an hon. Member, I worked as a senior solicitor for the London borough of Islington. My entire case-load was concerned with child care work. One of the reasons why we decided not to institute proceedings in the juvenile court under the Child Care Act 1980 or the Children and Young Persons Act 1969 but instead to ward children who came within those categories in Islington was that we believed that it was extremely important for grandparents—as interested parties concerned about their grandchildren, and who in many cases looked after them and gave them parental support—to be able to appear before the High Court in wardship proceedings, declare their interests and submit affidavit evidence. That is why I and so many other solicitors in local authorities in London and throughout the country decided to ward. We believed that the High Court was a much better and safer venue to deal with such cases.
Many of my concerns about wardship were met by the amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore. I was ready late on Tuesday night to debate grandparents' rights. Labour Members decided to place the arguments before the Minister in the hope that he would take on board our constructive comments and continue in the same spirit in which he began the Bill—a spirit of compromise and reasonableness. We were not able to do that.
In an intervention during the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield, the Minister raised his concerns about the activities of the miners group, or 1105 whatever it is called. The Children Bill was so important that we were prepared to sit all night on Tuesday and into the early hours of Wednesday to resolve the matter. My hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden), who has an interest in grandparents' rights, raised this issue. I have re-read his contribution on Second Reading in April this year. The issue was one of the first matters that he raised with the Minister of State.
§ Mr. Cryer
Does my hon. Friend agree that it would have been necessary for us to sit all through the night to provide the time for debate that was originally agreed—the second of two days? It was only the intervention of an important economic debate, which we initiated and which appears even more important now in the light of present circumstances, that produced a debate on the Children Bill after 10 o'clock, which by virtue of two Divisions meant 10.30 pm. In effect, the Government curtailed debate shortly after the second day of consideration had begun. If we had started at the usual time of half-past 4 or 5 o'clock, that action would have been equivalent to the Government curtailing the debate at, say, 7 or 7.30, which is patently absurd.
§ Mr. Vaz
My hon. Friend is right. We were prepared to discuss this important measure. Many hon. Members had decided to drive into Westminster that evening. My hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Nellist) told me that he did so because he wanted to raise a number of points. It was no secret that our deliberations were to start at 10 o'clock and go on until 2 o'clock in the morning.
I was surprised when the Minister of State rose in his place and moved that the House should adjourn. I do not think that he wanted to do that. Judging by his handling of the Bill, I believe that he would have liked to proceed. It was not a matter of the hon. Gentleman wanting to get back home. I have lived in Richmond, which adjoins Putney. It takes about 20 minutes to get to Richmond, and I am sure that it takes the hon. Gentleman a similar time to return to his constituency. I believe that he would have liked to continue the discussion, but he is not responsible. He is not yet Leader of the House, although he may be by the end of my speech, so he is not responsible for the way in which the business of the House is managed. The Opposition do not hold him responsible for what happened.
The Opposition were prepared to continue the debate because of the amendments that had been tabled. The House should know about the contribution of the voluntary sector to the passage of the Children Bill. We want it to reach the statute book. I wish that the Minister had accepted my amendment rather than proceeded with the child assessment order, but I accept the decision of the House. As one who has practised law, I feel that it is vital to codify child care law and that, instead of the piecemeal law which has existed for more than a century, there should be one definitive statute to which we and parents can go to find out what the law is. We have a legal duty and a moral responsibility to ensure that the Bill reaches the statute book. We were prepared to sit throughout Tuesday night, into the early hours of Wednesday morning, through lunchtime and into the afternoon to ensure that the Bill was saved. The voluntary sector believed that that was necessary.
As Ministers know, ever since the Lord Chancellor introduced the Bill in the other place, voluntary 1106 organisations have been writing to him, his officials and members of the Committee about the operation of child care law.
§ Mr. Ray Powell (Ogmore)
I appreciate what my hon. Friend says about the Minister's co-operation on the whole Bill. Were any reasons given to my hon. Friend or other members of the Committee as to why the Government wanted to pull stumps at that time in the morning, when the Opposition had offered to debate the whole Bill? The 400-odd Government amendments and other issues which we wanted to raise could have been given a full, open debate. Instead, the Government are trying through the guillotine motion to curtail discussions on certain items on which most of us would like to contribute if there is time.
§ Mr. Vaz
My hon. Friend was here. I paid tribute to him for his work on the grandparent amendments. The Minister of State gave no reason why the debate had to be adjourned. In his intervention during the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield, he said that he did not feel that it was proper for the debate on the Children Bill to proceed while many Divisions were being forced on largely technical amendments. The hon. Gentleman may not have felt that that was an appropriate way to proceed, but the way in which the Government are proceeding now is much worse. What a squalid way to end this landmark piece of legislation. What an appalling way to treat such an important statute. This is not the proper way to proceed on a measure on which there is consensus and to which many people have been waiting many years to contribute.
Before every Committee sitting we met representatives of the voluntary sector, including the Family Rights Group, the Children's Legal Centre, the British Agencies for Adoption and Fostering and the British Association of Social Workers. The Minister and his officials made a great effort and took much time to ensure that they had the support of the Association of Directors of Social Services and the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children before introducing the new clause on the child assessment order.
I vividly remember the Minister coming before the Committee in the middle of a sitting with a piece of paper and stating that at last the war between the ADSS and the NSPCC about the idea of a child assessment order was over and they were happy with it. Those organisations—two of the most powerful agencies dealing with child work—wrote to us saying that a compromise had been reached. Because of that news, the sitting was adjourned.
Groups such as the well-respected Family Rights Group, which is located in Islington, and the Children's Legal Centre, which had prepared an enormous amount of work through briefing materials and amendments, need to be carried with us. If they know, as the country now knows, that the Government wish to proceed on this historic measure in this squalid way, they will be bitterly disappointed that, after all the concessions and co-operation achieved in the past, this is how it ends.
1107 The hon. Member for Stockton, South (Mr. Devlin) has joined us. I do not know whether during his absence he has issued another press release. During my speech, he made some comments from a sedentary position.
§ Mr. Tim Devlin (Stockton, South)
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way, because I always enjoy interrupting his speeches. He has said that this is a squalid way to conduct matters. If a guillotine were not imposed on the Bill now, would not the legislation fall at the end of the Session? When I was here last night, the hon. Gentleman said that he was prepared for this important legislation to be carried over into the new Session. He knows as well as I know that many voluntary bodies which have been briefing him and me during the Bill's passage in Committee have been anxious to ensure that the Bill reaches the statute book and is implemented as soon as possible. It is a sad turnaround that the Labour party is prepared to sell this Bill down the river in pursuit of narrow mining interests.
§ Mr. Vaz
That is the ultimate cheek, coming from the hon. Member for Stockton, South who was not present during the second, late sitting on the Children Bill. The hon. Member told me that he stayed for the Division on child registration fees and then went home because he did not believe that there was anything of importance left to discuss, despite the fact that we have all these amendments to consider. It is a cheek to come to this House, having issued a press release which received a lot of coverage in The Times criticising the Labour Opposition for what they had done.
I am sorry if this is beginning to sound like a mutual admiration society—I assure the House that it will last only for the duration of the Children Bill—but I must again commend the Minister, who was brave enough to repudiate the words of the hon. Member for Stockton, South and issue a denial that any Opposition member of the Committee was responsible for the delay.
§ Mr. Devlin
It is clear from Hansard that, during that evening's proceedings, an agreement that had been reached was broken. It had not been intended that there would be any further Divisions that evening. That was accepted on both sides of the House. Then a group of Labour Members came to the House, forced a Division in which no Labour Member voted, and subsequently claimed that they had not spoken and had had nothing to do with it. Yet it was quite clear from the atmosphere in the House at the time that that group of hon. Members intended to continue to force Divisions on matters which, until that time, had not been in any way controversial.
§ Mr. Vaz
The hon. Member for Stockton, South must have bionic sight as he talks about the mood of the House at 1.30 am on Wednesday, when he was not even here but in bed at the Barbican, or wherever his flat is. He could not possibly know the mood of the House. It is no wonder that his colleagues refer to him as the Peter Bruinvels of the current Session. He is not able to be present for the debate but apparently he has no need to take part to judge the mood. What an extraordinary person he must be—although he is away from the House he knows its mood and what agreements have been reached.
1108 Yes, there was an agreement that this issue should be dealt with by 2 am this morning, but because of the passionate debates which had occurred earlier, and because the debate on registration charges went on a little longer than anticipated, the debates proceeded more slowly than had been intended.
The hon. Member cited the support of the voluntary sector. Of course the voluntary sector wants the Bill to become law. Of course we want it on the statute hook. If the hon. Gentleman had been here at the start of my speech he would have known what I said—that we want the Bill to become law as soon as possible. If the hon. Member for Stockton, South has read the Bill—perhaps that is what he is doing now—he will know that the date for its implementation is 1 April 1991, so it will make no difference if it is introduced in the new Session. Members have come to the House to confuse the public by talking about the new Session as though it were 100 years away. As far as I know, prorogation is between 15 and 22 November, which is only a week. If the Government believe that the Bill needs to be considered carefully, it is important that we should take time to ensure that we discuss the amendments in detail.
§ Mr. Devlin
If the Bill is not passed by the end of this Session, it falls and has to start through all its parliamentary stages once again. As the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz) knows, because he is a lawyer, there could be a carry—over motion. The hon. Member for Leicester, East has been studying my activities with great care, and has just said that he thought I might he reading the Bill. During many hours in Committee I have had ample opportunity to study the Bill, its provisions and all the amendments, including my own amendment which the hon. Gentleman supported.
On Tuesday the hon. Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke), the Front Bench spokesman for the Labour party, saidThat said, however—I say this especially in the presence of the Leader of the House, the Deputy Prime Minister, who is, of course, a reasonable man—when other reasonable hon. Members representing mining areas feel it necessary to demonstrate, as they have done, because they genuinely feel that they have a grievance about Associated British Ports—which is exactly what the hon. Member for Leicester, East has just said. Then the hon. Member——
§ Mr. Devlin
I apologise, Madam Deputy Speaker. The hon. Member for Leicester, East has been watching my actions with great care. I should like to direct him to the next sentence which states thatthe Front Benches have endeavoured to co-operate to ensure that the Bill reaches the statute book. That remains our position. I hope, of course, that time will be found in which to continue the Bill's remaining stages. I repeat that our position is that we shall not seek to oppose the Bill. We want to see it on the statute book".—[Official Report, 24 October 1989; Vol. 158, c. 806]:
§ Mr. Vaz
That intervention does not take us any further. The hon. Member for Stockton, South should put his comments to my hon. Friend the Member for 1109 Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke), who is not able to be present in the House this evening due to pressing constituency business—he has had to attend a funeral—and who was not aware that this issue would be debated this afternoon. The first we knew about it was at 2 am today, when we were here to take part in discussions on the Companies Bill, and I was here to present a petition on the problem of gipsy encampments near my constituency. My hon. Friend the Member for Monklands, West is therefore not able to be here to answer.
§ Mr. Madden
Despite the bluff and bluster that we have heard from Conservative Members throughout the debate on the guillotine motion, there were hon. Members present during the early hours of Wednesday morning who were willing, able and would have been pleased to complete all the remaining stages of the Children Bill and who would have given it their blessing on its way to the other place.
The other fact that Conservative Members seem to wish to avoid is that, after just two hours of Committee debate, the Minister moved an adjournment motion which the Government carried, despite the fact that 22 Labour Members voted against it, demonstrating their willingness to complete all stages of this important Bill, which we have supported throughout.
§ Mr. Vaz
I greatly respect my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden), who assisted me when I first came into the House when we were on the Immigration Bill Committee together. He has great knowledge of these issues, and he is right. Opposition Members wished to proceed with the debate. I and other hon. Members went into the Division Lobby to ensure that the House did not adjourn. I was happy to stay late last night because I had a petition to present and therefore had to be here.
The hon. Member for Stockton, South talked about the wishes of the voluntary sector. I believe that the voluntary sector wants us to get this Bill right and to take a great deal of time debating and analysing the amendments which have been put forward, quite properly, by the Minister. The voluntary sector believes that it will be a long time before Parliament will find the time and political will to debate these issues again, because we have waited until the very end of this Government's term of office to consider legislation covering children. It is a sign of the fact that it is not given a high priority. If it were, we should have been discussing it in 1979, rather than at this stage.
A Labour Government will clearly be elected at the next general election and will wish to ensure that time is made available, but I am worried that there will be so many other pieces of legislation that we shall have to implement that the children issue and the area of social policy concerning children may not come back again. I assure the Minister that when we come back to new clause 13 the new Labour Government will amend that provision fairly swiftly.
The voluntary sector wants to ensure that the Bill is a good Bill and that all the technical difficulties have been sorted out. A short delay at the final stage would not go amiss. As the hon. Member for Stockton, South knows, the Minister of State was in negotiation with Labour Members and others in Committee. His officials had emergency meetings with the Association of Directors of 1110 Social Services and the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children last Thursday evening to get through the provision on the child assessment order. Had we waited another week, the period of seven days for child assessment orders might have come down to three days as a result of the negotiations taking place. A short delay might well have been in order.
The hon. Member for Stockton, South says that the House will have to introduce a carry-over motion. I do not know what a carry-over motion is, but I accept that the hon. Gentleman has read the necessary documents. I am sure that the Leader of the House and the shadow Leader of the House, my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson), could come to some arrangement to enable us to agree a carry-over motion so that the Bill could be dealt with after the new Session begins.
We must bear in mind our long wait for the Bill and the fact that it will not even come into effect until 1 April 1991, because many of its provisions need to be the subject of scrutiny by local authorities and many of the provisions concerning legal proceedings and the amendments introduced by the Solicitor-General require rules of court. It is not possible to implement the Children Bill unless the rules of court have been sorted out.
The hon. Member for Stockton, South, as a lawyer, will remember that those points were raised in Committee when we discussed the need to have the Government's proposals brought before the Committee so that we could discuss issues such as the time necessary for the local authority to serve a notice on parents. We had a discussion on time limits. When I pressed the Minister in Committee on why he had suggested a period of 72 hours as the necessary time for a parent to challenge an emergency protection order, he said that he had to come to some decision on time. He had decided on 72 hours because it was a reasonable time and he believed that it gave parents a reasonable chance to challenge the order that was to be made. He then went on to promise me and the other members of the Committee that rules of court would be made. That shows that there is plenty of time to decide on the necessary rules of court and plenty of time in which to conduct negotiations on the most appropriate time available.
§ Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury)
It is important to clear up this matter. As I understand it, there is no way in which there could be a carry-over motion. There is no question of the Bill being able to go into the next Session. If we do not get it now, we shall not get it at all. I think that you, Madam Deputy Speaker, can confirm that no carry-over motion is possible. Either we get the Bill this Session, or it is lost.
§ Madam Deputy Speaker
That is the case. I refer the House to the proposal for suspending or resuming Bills. Proposals have been made for provision either by statute or by Standing Orders for the suspension of public Bills from one Session to another or for resuming proceeding upon such Bills, notwithstanding a Prorogation. There is no mechanism by which there can be a carry-over motion for a public Bill. It is up to the Government to get their Bill through during this Session.
§ Mr. Vaz
I am most grateful to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, your Clerk and the hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) for correcting the misleading information given 1111 by the hon. Member for Stockton, South. It is so reminiscent of Peter Bruinvels in Leicester that the information given was clearly not necessarily correct.
§ Mr. Madden
I am grateful for the advice that you gave the House, Madam Deputy Speaker. Will you also confirm that there was no impediment to the Bill completing its Report stage and Third Reading during the early hours of Wednesday morning?
§ Madam Deputy Speaker
The hon. Gentleman cannot tempt the Chair down that road. I have given a factual statement about carry-over motions.
§ Mr. Vaz
I am grateful for the facts that you have given, Madam Deputy Speaker, and to the Clerk for researching the point. In view of that, I urge the Government to look at the business of the House until 15 November. We now know when the Queen's Speech will be, so we can decide on our priorities. If the Children Bill is a priority, as I believe it is, it is necesary to remove some of the other pieces of legislation proposed for the next three weeks. I suggest the Football Spectators Bill, for example. I was a member of the Committee on that Bill and I believe that if the Minister spoke to his hon. Friend the Minister for Sport and suggested that the Bill should wait until the new Session, when we have the Taylor report, the Children Bill could be debated for the whole of Friday, which would give us sufficient time.
It is important that we hear the Minister's response. However, I want to mention one point that will be discussed tomorrow because, unfortunately, I shall not be able to be in the House tomorrow afternoon to make the point then. We need a discussion on wardship. The Minister of State has said often that he accepts the advice given by the NSPCC. Its advice at present is that clause 84 should be amended and that the Government should delay the implementation of the wardship provisions. The Opposition, the NSPCC and other voluntary organisations do not believe that wardship should be curtailed. I urge the Minister to consider that point.
This is a squalid way to end a Bill of such importance, but there is a way out. I accept the guidance that you have given, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I ask the Government and the Minister, in all honesty, to find the extra time that we need next week to discuss the Children Bill. It is a very important piece of legislation and it is unlikely that we shall return to consider this area of law for many decades to come.
§ Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea, West)
My hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) in his opening speech this afternoon described the situation as a shambles. Subsequent events perhaps have rather dwarfed this debate and given it an element of anticlimax, but they do not alter the fact that we are discussing the chaotic position of the Government's legislation. I would wager that what the Prime Minister said at Kuala Lumpur 1112 was a model of diplomacy compared with what she said to her Leader of the House and her Chief Whip when she returned to London yesterday.
I recall an item in, of all newspapers, one much liked by Conservative Members—The Sun—which said five years ago:Come home, Maggie. Rarely can any bunch of Government Ministers have presented such a spectacle of bungling, pathetic incompetence as was unveiled at Westminster yesterday.At the centre of this comedy of errors—or, more accurately, tragedy of errors—was the hapless Sir Geoffrey Howe…Has someone stolen his political judgment, or his political instincts?Although that was written five years ago, it could have been rerun this morning and it would have been absolutely relevant.
But what happened last night at midnight? The Leader of the House recovered his diplomatic touch. He crept in here when he thought that no one would notice and at a stroke destroyed the links and the channels between the Opposition and the Government. He abandoned them unilaterally and arbitrarily. He came with a statement about which he had not warned us and he introduced not one but two guillotines about which he had not told us. All that was done without warning and without discussion. His actions were arbitrary and unilateral—exactly the same as those that he pursued at GCHQ when he tore up existing agreements.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman skulked in here and launched on the House his double-bladed guillotine. His timing was superlative. We are in the final two weeks of the Session and the date for the one state opening of Parliament has been set. This is the time that the Government most need the co-operation of the Opposition, but the right hon. and learned Gentleman managed to destroy it. If we now echoed what he did to us last night, the Government would already be dismantling the arrangements for the State opening of Parliament.
The Prime Minister must dread going away—that is even more apposite in view of today's events. I have a cartoon with me from the Sunday Express which appeared five years ago at the same time as the quote that I read from The Sun. It shows two monks carrying candles in some vaults peering into a barrel and saying:You can't hide here for long, Sir Geoffrey. She'll get you sooner or later now she's back".She got him just before midnight last night and we are now debating the consequences. At least we should give the man credit. He has beeen in the job for three months and he is already in the record books. In this one Session of Parliament eight guillotines have been introduced. Today, when we complained about lack of time, the right hon. and learned Gentleman had the impudence to suggest that we should guillotine the two guillotines by not taking the full three hours to debate the motion.
I do not blame the Minister for Health. I have been impressed by the good will he has engendered on our Benches. The biggest obstacle to both Bills has been the Government, not the Opposition. The problem is not just the number of amendments tabled, but their sheer complexity and intricacy. The Children Bill attracted 38 pages of amendments and the Companies Bill 99 pages. The Government then complain that we wasted 15 minutes on what they considered an unnecessary vote.
By the time we finished at 11.26 pm on Monday, we had dealt with 293 amendments and new clauses to the 1113 Children Bill—288 of which had been tabled by the Government. The following night, however, at 1.30 am, well before any agreed deadline, the Minister moved the adjournment of the debate. We voted against that and a study of the vote shows that only 110 Tory Members voted, among whom there were only 19 Ministers or Whips. The debate was adjourned because the Leader of the House and the Chief Whip panicked. They were afraid that they would not be able to muster 100 Tory Members to vote and, despite our willingness to continue, they ended the debate. The sole excuse that they could offer was that we had dared to have one vote—there were not attendant speeches—which took up 15 minutes on an item which the Government considered did not warrant a vote. That is a measure of the indictment against us.
§ Mr. Williams
I have little time available to me. The hon. Gentleman has already made his speech. Earlier, I wondered whether I should interject in his interjection.
The Government have also complained about the Companies Bill, but who came here with a statement that lasted an hour and a quarter before we started our deliberations on that Bill? We did not do that—they did. Who tabled 300 amendments on the day of the debate? Not us. The Government should not pretend that the Opposition are responsible for the chaos, as they made the Bill up as they went along. On the last day of our deliberations in Committee, the Minister tabled 15 new clauses. In effect, those new clauses represented a new Financial Services Bill, but the Opposition were not given time to debate them. The Companies Bill is such a masterpiece of the draftsman's art that the Government have moved 1,100 amendments altogether—400 in the Lords, 400 in Committee and 300 yesterday. Now 700 of those amendments must go back to the Lords, so we shall start the process all over again. It is the Government, not the Opposition, who have sabotaged the Bill. They have drowned it in amendments.
I accept that much of the responsibility rests with the Chief Whip and perhaps with Ministers rather than with the Leader of the House. When the Prime Minister appointed the right hon. and learned Gentleman, she might have felt that she now had a winning team in charge of Government business. I am afraid that she must have a poor memory. What a Session the next one promises to be if the right hon. and learned Gentleman remains in post.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman's credentials are exciting and, five years ago, they were noted by the newspapers. The Daily Telegraph, no great supporter of us, ran the headline:Howe centre of Tory disarrayThe Guardian carried the headline:The disaster zone around Geoffrey Howe".The Sun noted:Fury as Howe slips up again".The Daily Mirror ran the headline, "Howe blunder", the Sunday Mirror spoke of a "Whitehall farce" and the main headline in The Timesread, "Embarrassed Howe". My favourite headline is one that appeared on the front page of the Daily Mirror. It showed a photograph of the right hon. and learned Gentleman as though standing on his head and the headline ran:Dear Sir Geoffrey…Have you ever had one of those weeks when nothing goes right?1114 That takes us back to where we started when I quoted from The Sun. The Daily Mirror should rerun that headline tomorrow as it is every bit as relevant today as it was five years ago.
We do not yet know what the right hon. and learned Gentleman will be doing in the next Session, but let us remember that the man who helped to create this mess is the man who sank the economy in one Budget. He is the man who bungled the GCHQ sackings so badly that he gave the Government the worst three days of headlines that they have ever had—until, I suspect, the three days that are about to come. This is the man who will be in charge of the business of the House—we think—for the next 12 months. It promises to be an exciting year for me.
Last night, the right hon. and learned Gentleman demonstrated his fine touch. I look forward to the new Session, assuming that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is not in charge of a nuclear power station in the Outer Hebrides.
§ 7.37 pm.
§ The Minister for Health (Mr. David Mellor)
If a week is a long time in politics, I have found that three hours is equally long. I appreciate that some of the interest in this debate may have dissipated during its course. I congratulate all of those who, notwithstanding the eruptions around them, nevertheless sought to keep their eye on the ball. I shall seek to follow in that noble tradition, although I shall not criticise the House if, on this occasion, hon. Members find other matters more compelling than my oratory to talk about. I shall do my best to play out elegantly the time remaining in the debate.
We agree about a lot of things this evening, not least that it is important that the Children Bill should go on the statute book. Far too much work has been done on the Bill for it to be lost. I am grateful that the co-operation across the Chamber on this Bill has been recognised. Such recognition is always the first thing to go out of the window when things get tough. There has been genuine co-operation on the Bill. I have no complaint against the hon. Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke) or the hon. Member for Durham, North-West (Ms. Armstrong), who have worked extremely hard on the Bill. They were supported by an able team in Committee. I believe that the Bill, as it emerged from Committee, is stronger for the careful consideration it was given during 17 sittings.
I believe, however, that there was something missing from the speech of the right hon. Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams). He did not recognise the new factor that entered into our discussions at 10.30 pm on Tuesday. We had arranged for the Children Bill to pass into law. However, an unnecessary Division was called by two hon. Members. Whatever other involvements they have in this House—and both are active hon. Members—neither had been active in our deliberations on the Children Bill. They were plainly activated by a grievance other than any objections to the inoffensive technical amendment under consideration. Both the hon. Members for Monklands, West and for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bell) candidly acknowledged that the dispute was about the Associated British Ports Bill and said that it was likely that several Divisions would be called—not because of any objections to what was being proposed by the Government, but simply to advance that grievance.
1115 That is a parliamentary tactic for which there are precedents. However, one parliamentary tactic may be met by another kind of parliamentary tactic and the tactic now being deployed is that of confining the debate. It is being done for three reasons. Once we move from the necessary battle lines that have to be drawn in the artificial huff and puff that has characterised the past three hours—fun though it has been for all kinds of reasons—I imagine that we can agree about those three things.
First, the Bill is necessary. It has been a good thing that, in the course of a busy Session, it has proved possible to find the time for a Bill that could easily have been squeezed out by other more contentious measures. As the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz) eloquently said, we will not have the chance to return to this issue for quite some time, and we cannot afford to lose the Bill. It must become law.
Secondly, we have to acknowledge the price that has had to be paid. First, there is the care and skill that the parliamentary draftsmen have brought to bear on the legislation. Secondly, as changes have been made in deference to the wishes of the House, the Bill needs to be further considered in the Lords. It is therefore necessary that the Bill is delivered to the other place in good time to allow that consideration to take place. It cannot be left hanging around any more than can the Companies Bill.
Thirdly—this point is highly relevant—there was an arrangement through the usual channels that the Bill must be completed, notwithstanding the amount of time that had been eaten into as a result of the emergency motion on the economy on Tuesday. Perhaps Friday should have been chosen for that debate, but there we are, it happened on Tuesday. Indeed, we know that the Bill's passage could have been completed already if common sense had prevailed among hon. Members throughout the House.
Notwithstanding the fact that it has been necessary to curtail our debate on the Bill, we still have three hours of debate tomorrow. That is actually more than the time that it was originally envisaged that the Bill would take to complete once the last contentious piece of business had been disposed of. There would also have been plenty of time for the Companies Bill to be further considered tonight if it had not been for the point that was argued at length in the House yesterday evening, which in itself was not contentious.
It has been suggested that there was some doubt about whether it would have been possible for us to complete our progress on the Children Bill. There was also some doubt about whether the Government could move as they did. Any doubt that might have existed about whether progress was possible must surely have been washed away by what happened in the House last night when some of the following exchanges took place—[Interruption.]
§ Mr. Mellor
I know that the House remains riveted by the problems of the Companies Bill. I remind hon. Members that at the bottom of page 4 clause 2 contains the words.in the case of a company incorporated after the commencement of that Part, the last day of the month in which the anniversary of its incorporation falls.A deeply radical and searching amendment of the utmost controversy was tabled in which it was suggested that the 1116 word "Part" should be removed and the word "Section" be inserted. One might have assumed that that would pass relatively unnoticed, but no. It caused a Division that took 20 minutes of parliamentary time. Then, lo and behold, if we move on to clause 4(2), we find that it states:Schedule 4 to the Companies Act 1985…is amended in accordance with Schedule 1.Again, a deeply damaging amendment was tabled by the Government that would have added the words "to this Act" to the end of that sentence, yet notwithstanding the relative inoffensiveness of those words a Division was forced.
It was perfectly obvious that, whatever else was motivating hon. Members last night. it was not a deep concern about improving the Companies Bill. That was made abundantly clear by the fact that the Tellers for those Divisions were not the official Opposition Tellers, but were from the group concerned about the Associated British Ports Bill.
There are many precedents for guillotines in the House. Indeed, on one famous occasion the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) managed to bring five guillotines to the House in one evening. When pressed about that in a debate last year, he said:Those five guillotines were introduced on 20 July. That is quite late in the Session. If we had not had the guillotine motions, all those five measures would have been destroyed. There is not the slightest doubt about that."—[Official Report, 22 February 1988; Vol. 128, c. 39.]From that impeccable parliamentary source has come the reason for tonight's guillotine.
§ Question put:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 195, Noes 98.1118
|Division No. 354]||[7.46 pm|
|Alexander, Richard||Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)|
|Amess, David||Colvin, Michael|
|Amos, Alan||Conway, Derek|
|Arbuthnot, James||Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest)|
|Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)||Coombs, Simon (Swindon)|
|Atkinson, David||Cormack, Patrick|
|Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley)||Couchman, James|
|Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)||Cran, James|
|Baldry, Tony||Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g)|
|Batiste, Spencer||Davis, David (Boothferry)|
|Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke)||Day, Stephen|
|Benyon, W.||Devlin, Tim|
|Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter||Dicks, Terry|
|Boscawen, Hon Robert||Dover, Den|
|Boswell, Tim||Dunn, Bob|
|Bottomley, Mrs Virginia||Durant, Tony|
|Bowden, A (Brighton K'pto'n)||Evennett, David|
|Bowis, John||Fallon, Michael|
|Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard||Favell, Tony|
|Brazier, Julian||Fenner, Dame Peggy|
|Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's)||Fishburn, John Dudley|
|Bruce, Ian (Dorset South)||Fookes, Dame Janet|
|Buck, Sir Antony||Forman, Nigel|
|Burns, Simon||Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)|
|Burt, Alistair||Forth, Eric|
|Butcher, John||Fowler, Rt Hon Norman|
|Butler, Chris||Fox, Sir Marcus|
|Butterfill, John||French, Douglas|
|Carlisle, John, (Luton N)||Gale, Roger|
|Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)||Gardiner, George|
|Carrington, Matthew||Garel-Jones, Tristan|
|Carttiss, Michael||Gill, Christopher|
|Cash, William||Glyn, Dr Alan|
|Channon, Rt Hon Paul||Goodhart, Sir Philip|
|Chapman, Sydney||Goodlad, Alastair|
|Chope, Christopher||Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles|
|Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)||Gorman, Mrs Teresa|
|Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)||Grant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW)|
|Greenway, Harry (Eating N)||Newton, Rt Hon Tony|
|Greenway, John (Ryedale)||Norris, Steve|
|Gregory, Conal||Oppenheim, Phillip|
|Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)||Page, Richard|
|Ground, Patrick||Paice, James|
|Grylls, Michael||Patnick, Irvine|
|Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn||Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey|
|Hague, William||Pawsey, James|
|Hamilton, Hon Archie (Epsom)||Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth|
|Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)||Porter, Barry (Wirral S)|
|Hampson, Dr Keith||Porter, David (Waveney)|
|Hanley, Jeremy||Portillo, Michael|
|Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn)||Powell, William (Corby)|
|Haselhurst, Alan||Raison, Rt Hon Timothy|
|Hawkins, Christopher||Redwood, John|
|Hayes, Jerry||Riddick, Graham|
|Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney||Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas|
|Hayward, Robert||Rossi, Sir Hugh|
|Heathcoat-Amory, David||Sainsbury, Hon Tim|
|Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.||Shaw, David (Dover)|
|Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd)||Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)|
|Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey||Shersby, Michael|
|Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)||Sims, Roger|
|Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne)||Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)|
|Hunter, Andrew||Soames, Hon Nicholas|
|Irvine, Michael||Squire, Robin|
|Jack, Michael||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|Jackson, Robert||Steen, Anthony|
|Janman, Tim||Stern, Michael|
|Jessel, Toby||Stewart, Andy (Sherwood)|
|Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey||Stradling Thomas. Sir John|
|Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)||Tapsell, Sir Peter|
|Key, Robert||Taylor, John M (Solihull)|
|Kilfedder, James||Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)|
|Kirkhope, Timothy||Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman|
|Knapman, Roger||Thompson, D. (Calder Valley)|
|Knight, Greg (Derby North)||Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)|
|Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)||Thurnham, Peter|
|Knowles, Michael||Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)|
|Lester, Jim (Broxtowe)||Tracey, Richard|
|Lord, Michael||Twinn, Dr Ian|
|Lyell, Sir Nicholas||Waddington, Rt Hon David|
|Macfarlane, Sir Neil||Walden, George|
|MacGregor, Rt Hon John||Waller, Gary|
|Maclean, David||Ward, John|
|McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick||Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)|
|Malins, Humfrey||Warren, Kenneth|
|Mans, Keith||Watts, John|
|Maples, John||Wheeler, John|
|Marshall, John (Hendon S)||Widdecombe, Ann|
|Martin, David (Portsmouth S)||Wiggin, Jerry|
|Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin||Winterton, Mrs Ann|
|Mellor, David||Winterton, Nicholas|
|Meyer, Sir Anthony||Wood, Timothy|
|Mills, lain||Yeo, Tim|
|Mitchell, Sir David||Young, Sir George (Acton)|
|Morris, M (N'hampton S)||Younger, Rt Hon George|
|Morrison, Sir Charles|
|Moss, Malcolm||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Moynihan, Hon Colin||Mr. Stephen Dorrell and|
|Needham, Richard||Mr. Tom Sackville.|
|Allen, Graham||Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley)|
|Archer, Rt Hon Peter||Campbell-Savours, D. N.|
|Armstrong, Hilary||Clay, Bob|
|Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy||Clwyd, Mrs Ann|
|Ashton, Joe||Cohen, Harry|
|Banks, Tony (Newham NW)||Corbyn, Jeremy|
|Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE)||Cousins, Jim|
|Beith, A. J.||Cox, Tom|
|Bell, Stuart||Cryer, Bob|
|Benn, Rt Hon Tony||Cummings, John|
|Bennett, A. F. (D'nfn & R'dish)||Darling, Alistair|
|Bermingham, Gerald||Dewar, Donald|
|Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E)||Dixon, Don|
|Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)||Dobson, Frank|
|Buchan, Norman||Doran, Frank|
|Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)||Dunwoody, Hon Mrs Gwyneth|
|Eastham, Ken||Morgan, Rhodri|
|Fearn, Ronald||Mowlam, Marjorie|
|Fields, Terry (L'pool B G'n)||Nellist, Dave|
|Flannery, Martin||Orme, Rt Hon Stanley|
|Flynn, Paul||Owen, Rt Hon Dr David|
|Foster, Derek||Patchett, Terry|
|Foulkes, George||Powell, Ray (Ogmore)|
|Fyfe, Maria||Prescott, John|
|Galloway, George||Quin, Ms Joyce|
|Garrett, John (Norwich South)||Randall, Stuart|
|George, Bruce||Reid, Dr John|
|Golding, Mrs Llin||Richardson, Jo|
|Gould, Bryan||Robinson, Geoffrey|
|Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)||Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)|
|Haynes, Frank||Ruddock, Joan|
|Heffer, Eric S.||Sheerman, Barry|
|Hinchliffe, David||Skinner, Dennis|
|Hughes, John (Coventry NE)||Smith, Rt Hon J. (Monk'ds E)|
|Hughes, Simon (Southwark)||Soley, Clive|
|Illsley, Eric||Spearing, Nigel|
|Johnston, Sir Russell||Steel, Rt Hon David|
|Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)||Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)|
|Kennedy, Charles||Vaz, Keith|
|Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil||Wall, Pat|
|Kirkwood, Archy||Wallace, James|
|Leighton, Ron||Welsh, Andrew (Angus E)|
|Livsey, Richard||Welsh, Michael (Doncaster N)|
|Lofthouse, Geoffrey||Williams, Rt Hon Alan|
|Macdonald, Calum A.||Winnick, David|
|Maclennan, Robert||Wise, Mrs Audrey|
|Madden, Max||Wray, Jimmy|
|Meale, Alan||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)||Mr. Robert N. Wareing and|
|Michie, Mrs Ray (Arg'l & Bute)||Mr. Martyn Jones.|
|Molyneaux, Rt Hon James|
§ Questions accordingly agreed to.