HC Deb 28 March 1990 vol 170 cc497-545

10. In this Order allotted day" means any day (other than a Friday) on which the 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 Bill" means the Social Security Bill.

Hon. Members do not need me to tell them that my right hon. Friends and I do not table timetable motions without due consideration. We believe that it is important for all legislation, including this important Social Security Bill, to be debated and scrutinised properly by Parliament. For that reason alone, it is a matter of importance that one feels obliged to move such a motion, particularly on this fairly short Bill.

It was striking that the Bill's Committee stage was orderly and compact. Subsequently, we reached what I thought was a sensible agreement between the usual channels to allocate a day and a half for Report and Third Reading. Both sides judged that sufficient, so it should have been, and so, indeed, it was. For that reason, I attach some significance to the fact that the motion means that the House will spend more time on the Bill, not less, than was originally planned by the usual channels.

The Committee stage was, in many respects, a model of how the detailed scrutiny processes of the House should operate. Opposition Members moved about 120 amendments, some significant but others less so, and four new clauses which in their view would have improved the Bill. Where the Government were able to agree with them, my right hon. and hon. Friends accepted their points. The Government moved about 145 amendments and the whole process was completed in about 30 hours.

In his remarks at the end of the Committee stage, my right hon. Friend the Minister for Social Security summed it up: Some difficult issues have been discussed and I think we have managed to discuss them, despite the vigour and enthusiasm of the Opposition in attacking us, with good humour. That is very important, and in no way would I underestimate the strength of feeling of the Opposition about some of the measures. On the same occasion, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short)—I am pleased to see her taking her place with such zeal and diligence—who led for the Opposition, said: It has been a civilised but serious Committee."—[Official Report, Standing Committee G, 8 March 1990; c. 462-63.] That was a sensible judgment. I think that all my right hon. and hon. Friends who had participated in or followed the proceedings of the Committee agreed with her.

What happened subsequently, however, revealed a startling and far less constructive attitude by the Opposition. They have tabled no fewer than 21 new clauses and a further 21 amendments for consideration on Report. Few of the new clauses relate to subjects that were discussed in Committee. The remainder have been tabled to widen substantially the scope of the Bill and as pegs on which to hang a series of debates about matters not directly related to its main purposes. Unless we take sensible steps now, the debate will become unmanageable.

Mr. John Battle (Leeds, West)

Did not the Government table new clauses on matters not related to the substance of the Bill when it went before the Committee, precisely because they found themselves in difficulty with other legislation? The clauses that have been tacked on bear no relation to the substance of the Bill in its original form. The Government have extended the agenda and turned the Bill into a holdall to pick up the pieces of other shoddy legislation.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I do not accept that analysis. I understand the hon. Gentleman's point, and I shall deal with it shortly. The usual process for the handling of a Bill is for the main substance to be debated in Committee and for discussion to focus more sharply when it returns to the Floor of the House. What has happened with this Bill has paralleled what happened with the National Health Service and Community Care Bill. The House will remember that that Bill made good progress through Committee, only to be brought to a virtual standstill on the Floor of the House by the behaviour of some Opposition Members when we began to make headway on Report.

Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)

Has the Leader of the House forgotten what really happened? That Bill was obstructed and eventually guillotined for what some might say was exactly the same reason as this Bill will be obstructed—I understand by the right hon. and learned Gentleman's Back Benchers—and guillotined. We are debating the same issue—the charges in residential homes. Do not the Government bear responsibility for that? It has nothing to do with my hon. Friends.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

If the hon. Gentleman believes that, he will believe anything. What happened on the National Health Service and Community Care Bill was overwhelmingly the result of the time taken by Opposition Members. That Bill could continue its passage through the House in a sensible manner only after the successful moving of a timetable motion by my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Health. He did so only after many hours of debate on Report.

The Social Security Bill is a much smaller Bill. Because of the similarity in the way in which the Opposition are apparently proposing to handle the Bill, it is sensible to let the House make a decision at the outset of the Report stage on the amount of time to be devoted to consideration of the Bill. Indeed, that view is in line with the view increasingly often aired in more than one part of the House, that timetabling is generally helpful.

Sir Peter Emery (Honiton)


Sir Geoffrey Howe

I thought that that might provoke my hon. Friend.

Sir Peter Emery

Will my right hon. and learned Friend cast his mind towards the two Procedure Committee reports about the Committee and Report stages of Bills? If the Government had followed our advice, this debate might have been unnecessary. Our reports make two recommendations similar to what I think my right hon. and learned Friend is now attempting to do. Is not he attempting to ensure that all parts of a Bill are debated in Committee, and that only new factors of apparent importance are debated on Report? Would not it be better to timetable in that way and so ensure that this sort of position does not arise?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

My hon. Friend gives me such comprehensive support that I must welcome it. However, I must take care to ensure that my response is not so enthusiastic that it makes him feel that the argument is already over. There is a great deal in what my hon. Friend said. One point about the recommendation for more timetabling that emerged from what he said is that the earlier that that is undertaken the more value it has.

Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills)

I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend will be cautious about those recommendations, which touch on the heart of what the House is about. The Government, through their hubris last year, introduced 11 guillotines. That meant that much legislation was unargued, unreasoned and caused difficulty in the country through the necessity to defend our position. Our fear about the guillotine is that many of the issues arise as a consequence of debate, and are not matters of settled judgment beforehand. In a spirit of humility, I ask the Government to be cautious about such arguments.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I would not imagine my hon. Friend making a point of that kind except in a spirit of the utmost humility and I accept it in that sense.

The time foreshadowed for the Report stage was a day and a half and that is not unreasonable. We are now providing for rather more time than that to be devoted to debate and for that to be carried out in a more orderly fashion. That should command reasonable support.

I hope that the House will agree that it makes sense to keep within reasonable bounds the amount of time that can be devoted on the Floor of the House to topics that were touched on or discussed in detail in Committee. There is much to be said for a fair, but disciplined approach to debating the new clauses and amendments that will shortly come before the House and the timetable motion will encourage that process. If the House approves the motion, the more self-disciplined we can be, the more new clauses and amendments we shall be able to debate.

I repeat the central point that the Bill will now have longer for debate than the one and a half days agreed through the usual channels. Therefore, I see no merit in accepting the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer).

Mr. Michael Meacher (Oldham, West)

The Leader of the House has repeated his earlier point that there will be more time to debate the Bill and its new clauses. How can that possibly be so when the first six Opposition new clauses are being squashed into one hour and when the most important of these is about poll tax benefit, and all hon. Members know that that will take up the whole hour on its own?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The total time allotted exceeds the normal one and a half sitting days—

Mr. Battle

That is time to debate Government new clauses.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The Government new clauses deal with important matters with which it is perfectly sensible to deal at this stage. For example, the social fund amendment is a response to events that have occurred since the Bill's introduction. The measure relating to income support payments for people in residential care and nursing homes is a sensible response to the concerns expressed earlier this month by hon. Members on both sides of the House. That is a complicated area and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State was understandably concerned to get it right. That new clause was tabled yesterday.

The new clause on occupational pensions tabled last Friday improves the existing provisions, following further and useful consultations with interested parties. The overwhelming majority of the Government amendments are simply designed, as you would expect, Mr. Speaker, to improve the detailed drafting of the Bill. I see no reason to apologise for bringing any of the new clauses to the House on Report.

Ms. Clare Short (Birmingham, Ladywood)

Will the Leader of the House explain what possible justification the Government have for tabling a three-and-a-half page new clause on the duties of fathers to maintain their children if that saves social security costs—as seems to be the Government's only interest? When the Prime Minister made her speech about that in January we had plenty of time left in Committee. Why did the Government not bring that important issue forward sooner? We will not have enough time to discuss it properly now because of the guillotine motion.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will explain, it is important that that matter should have been thought through carefully before it was debated in the House. The new clauses, including the one to which the hon. Lady has referred, have intrinsic merits and they will provide an opportunity for hon. Members to air their views on those issues.

Mr. George Howarth (Knowsley, North)

The Leader of the House has just made a very serious point. He has suggested that the reason why the new clause has only just been introduced is that the issue had to be thought through. Was it not thought through when the Prime Minister made her speech in January?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

Of course it was. Speeches made by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister are lucid and effective, but even her speeches require a little time to be translated into clauses and then find their way into Bills such as this.

The time that will be made available under these arrangements is a sensible allocation, not least in the light of the experience on the National Health Service and Community Care Bill to which I have referred. It is a sensible way to ensure that these matters are discussed in an orderly and sensible fashion. No Government can stand back and allow the proper management of the business of Parliament to be threatened by the unreasonable prospect that could have followed from handling the Bill without a timetable motion. I commend the motion to the House.

4.10 pm
Mr. Bruce Grocott (The Wrekin)

I shall try to be helpful, but I doubt whether the Government will take my advice. I cannot help reflecting that I have had the job of opposing a guillotine motion in the House on only one other occasion. The Government decisively rejected my advice and I have the feeling that they have regretted that decision ever since. It was made during the guillotine debate on 22 February 1988 on the poll tax Bill. I advised them that it was not a good idea to rush it through. There were 317 of them and 223 of us and, accordingly, the vote to rush the legislation through as quickly as possible was carried. The old phrase about turkeys voting for Christmas inevitably comes to mind. Having made the mistake once, perhaps the Government will listen more carefully today.

I am disappointed that the Leader of the House has chosen to bring forward the motion. I approach my job with a little caution, because I know that guillotine debates have a certain sameness about them, and I also know that it will not be long before the Government and Opposition are reversed. I do not disagree with the Leader of the House when he says that it is important to get sensible consideration of Bills in Committee. However, he stretched matters to excess in pretending that the guillotine on this series of debates constitutes the orderly management of Government business.

I had some hopes that the right hon. and learned Gentleman would be a reforming Leader of the House. He has made promises about the private Bill procedure and I thought that he would find better ways to deal with such things. I am afraid that, increasingly, he is becoming a party hack putting through business as effectively as he can and stifling opposition and debate. He has been a little disappointing. The guillotine motion is not business management, it is crisis management.

Mr. Andrew MacKay (Berkshire, East)

The hon. Gentleman talks about crisis management. As a fellow retread, he will recall that some years ago when he sat on the Government Benches as the hon. Member for Lichfield and Tamworth, we both witnessed the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) standing at the Dispatch Box and moving five guillotine motions in one day. Does the hon. Gentleman think that that was orderly and that it was good management?

Mr. Grocott

The hon. Gentleman neglects the critical difference. At that time there was a deliberate attempt, helped by the House of Lords, to throw out major pieces of legislation to which we were committed. There was a different state of affairs at that time and the motions were presented much later in the parliamentary year. We had fewer guillotine motions than the present Government. I will not bore the House by reading the list of all the guillotine motions that the Government have presented. In the two and a half years since the general election more guillotine motions have been brought forward by the Government than were brought forward during a similar period by the last Labour Government. That has happened even though the Government have a large majority, a supine press and a largely docile House of Lords. I hope that the hon. Gentleman understands that the state of affairs is totally different.

What are the possible explanations for the Government bringing in a guillotine motion on this legislation at such short notice? The first might be that we were running out of parliamentary time at the end of a parliamentary year. Clearly that does not apply to this legislation. I know that, to Conservative Members, it must seem a long time since the Queen's Speech, but I remind them that we are only three months into the parliamentary year.

A second possible reason is that the Government's legislative programme is threatened. I know that they are losing by-elections, but the Government still have a substantial majority in the House, so surely they cannot claim that their programme is threatened.

Have the Opposition behaved irresponsibly when considering the Bill? That cannot be the reason: Second Reading was on 22 January and the Committee had 12 sittings, so there can be no suggestion of filibustering or of the Opposition behaving unreasonably.

The reason for this guillotine is that the Government are in a panic. Just for the record, let us get straight how the Government tabled their five new clauses, which are complicated and which deal with important issues. One was tabled on Monday; two more were tabled early on Tuesday morning; a fourth was tabled a little later; and the final one, on residential accommodation, appeared only at 5 pm yesterday. The first we knew about the guillotine motion was yesterday morning. If that is not crisis management I do not know what is.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)

Surely the hon. Gentleman will acknowledge that the residential care provisions were changed because the Government were responding to the wishes of the House? He cannot grumble about that.

Mr. Grocott

The hon. Lady did not have the advantage that I had of being in Mid-Staffordshire on the day the Government lost the vote of residential accommodation and of seeing the panic at the Tory press conference when Conservatives had to explain how the Government were operating. I am sure that that panic has fed back to the Cabinet by now. The Government were in an indefensible position, so they are not being reasonable and sensible: they are panicking.

Mr. Nicholas Bennett (Pembroke)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Grocott

I shall not give way as I have already been speaking for some time.

The Government are panicking because they can no longer rely on many of their Back Benchers. On Tuesday night in the debate on the flagship of their legislative programme, the poll tax, they were deserted by the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) and by the former Chancellor of the Exchequer, so it is not surprising that run-of-the-mill Back Benchers without big jobs are failing to support the Government.

As the Leader of the House rightly pointed out, our 21 new clauses touch on crucial areas such as residential care, the poll tax, the uprating of benefits in line with earnings, people with disabilities—important new clauses tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) deal with them—and the compensation of victims of radiation. Either all these new clauses, some of them supported by Conservative Members, will not be considered at all or debate on them will be grossly foreshortened. No Government with a majority of 100 or more, three months into the parliamentary year, should be doing this, and they would not be if they were in rational control of their programme.

I said at the beginning that I would try to be helpful, but I have a feeling that I am not striking a chord among Tory Members. If they will not take any notice of us I suggest, in their own interests, that they take a look at their record of rushing legislation through Parliament, to see what happens when they make a mess of it. The three guillotines on the "great" Social Security Bill still failed to produce a sensible Act. Time after time, with the poll tax legislation and social security legislation, the Government have not listened to reasoned argument and allowed enough time for debate, so they have looked stupid and sometimes have ended up in the courts thereafter.

The guillotine motion is not moved so that there can be sensible scrutiny of the Bill, but because the Government are in a panic. That is why we shall vote against it.

4.19 pm
Sir George Young (Ealing, Acton)

Like the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Grocott), I hope to be helpful. His speech was short on enthusiasm and seemed to be a bit of a ritual. Perhaps it was a word-processor-written speech with "social security" inserted for the name of the previous legislation on which he may have opposed a guillotine motion.

I spoke on Second Reading, but did not serve in Committee. We had a reasoned debate, with support from both sides. I understand from my hon. Friends who served on the Committee that it was a civilised procedure. Therefore, at first sight it may seem that the legislation does not deserve a guillotine motion. The reason for the guillotine and why I support it is what happened a fortnight ago.

A fortnight ago, I voted in every Division through the night. The notion that if one allowed this debate to proceed through the night there would be a civilised and rational discussion of new clauses is betrayed by anybody who was here a fortnight ago or anybody who reads Hansard. We got through about one clause in four hours and did not put the time to good use. If this measure were not guillotined, we would waste the small hours, and tomorrow afternoon the Government would have to introduce a guillotine motion. Against practice and even the declared intentions of Labour Members, it is sensible to introduce this motion to ensure a civilised debate in reasonable hours.

Although I have not always supported guillotine motions in the past and I did not support one on the community charge, I shall vote for this one with enthusiasm.

Mr. George Howarth (Knowsley, North)

I have followed the drift of the hon. Gentleman's argument, but it is inconsistent. Is it not better to debate matters at length than not debate them at all, which is what he will vote for if he votes for the motion?

Sir George Young

The hon. Gentleman misses my point. If one provides extensive time for debate, it is not put to productive use. I am not sure whether he was here a fortnight ago and listened to some of the debate—

Mr. Howarth

I was.

Sir George Young

The hon. Gentleman was. I challenge him to say that the hours between 10 pm and 7 am were put to the best possible use, that we got through a whole series of new clauses and had a useful discussion. We did not. Labour Members filibustered. They used the time to spin out discussion—

Ms. Short

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Sir George Young

No. The hon. Lady will be able to make her own speech.

That is why I have no hesitation in supporting the guillotine motion. We shall make more sensible use of time than if we did not have the guillotine and sat all through the night listening to boring speeches from Labour Members who are simply trying to spin out time. That does the House no good. People outside the House and Conservative Members wholly understand why the Government have introduced the motion.

4.23 pm
Mr. Michael Foot (Blaenau Gwent)

I am glad to have this opportunity to speak in the debate. I have spoken on one or two guillotine motions before and I shall refer to them.

The Leader of the House should have waited to listen to the debate. Whenever I moved a guillotine motion, I at least had the courtesy to listen to the debate. This is an important occasion, and he was at his lucid and most effective best—those were the words that he purloined from the Prime Minister—when he spoke to us. To run away immediately afterwards is grossly discourteous. It is not how the House of Commons should be run. He should be here to listen to the debate.

I mean no disrespect to the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Patnick), who is left on the burning boat and serves alone. He is probably better than his colleagues and if he had the chance to speak, it might be better all round. It is shocking for a Leader of the House to move a guillotine motion and to skedaddle off as though it were nothing to do with him. The Patronage Secretary moved the previous timetable motion because the Leader of the House was not present to move his own motion—he was off in Chile or somewhere. The right hon. and learned Gentleman's absence during that previous debate is all the more reason why he should have stayed today.

The behaviour of the Patronage Secretary was bad as well. I have never in all my time as a Member seen a more raucous, demonstrative Patronage Secretary. I thought that he had been appointed to the Chief Whip's Office to bring a much-needed touch of elegance and courtesy. All his measures outside are matched when he comes into the Chamber. He sits next to the Leader of the House, shouts and interrupts everyone who wants to make a speech. He skedaddles off when he has the chance, leaving the hon. Member for Hallam, who is not allowed to reply, although I am sure that he is more capable of doing so than Ministers.

This is a discourteous way of treating the House of Commons, especially if the Government want the motion to be treated seriously, as it should be. I agree with the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) that it is dangerous for the House of Commons as a whole if we become used to the idea that we just need a guillotine motion to get business through.

Mr. Richard Holt (Langbaurgh)

If the right hon. Gentleman thinks that it is discourteous for my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House not to be here, does he think that it is also discourteous for the shadow Leader of the House not to he here?

Mr. Foot

My hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Grocott) made an effective speech from the House of Commons' point of view, and everyone who heard it knows that it was a good speech. He is here to listen to the debate. I should have thought that every Conservative Member would understand that for a Leader of the House to move a motion and then clear off without having heard any of the replies is a discourteous way to treat the House of Commons. When I was Leader of the House, I stayed pretty well throughout the debates, certainly on these matters, to listen to the view of the House of Commons.

I underline the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin. It is foolish, even from the Government's point of view, not to listen to the House of Commons. The main purposes of a Leader of the House are not only to listen and move motions but to take messages from here to the Cabinet. Perhaps the breakdown in the Government's operations has occurred because that main task has not been performed. Cabinet does not learn what the House of Commons says, for example, in the early hours of the morning, when some of the most interesting developments take place—such as the debate a week or so ago that led to the other guillotine motion.

If such events are not reported to No. 10 Downing street by the Leader of the House, it shows a great weakness in our government and injures Cabinet government. Whenever there is a fresh Government crisis, the Leader of the House says, "We shall go back to Cabinet government." He says that almost twice-weekly now, but he is one of the chief offenders. He should tell No. 10 Downing street and the Prime Minister around the Cabinet table each week what is happening here. He cannot do so if he is not here to see what happens. Even in the Government's own interests, it would be better for the Leader of the House and the Patronage Secretary to pay attention to the House of Commons for a change and learn some wisdom from this place.

I was provoked into making those comments by the conduct of those on the Government Front Bench, but I now wish to start on a different note. I agree with the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills that this is a serious matter for the House of Commons as a whole, although I disagree with the hon. Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young), who has great knowledge of the House. It is a serious matter if Governments of any complexion get into the habit of thinking, "We can always introduce a guillotine motion to deal with these matters. If we get into trouble, we need not worry too much, and we need not even think of it at the beginning of a Bill." Indeed, a proposal to that effect is sometimes put forward by the Select Committee on Procedure.

That idea has always in the past been rejected by the House, and it should be rejected. I regret that the Chairman of the Procedure Committee, the hon. Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery), is not in his place because he could learn something by listening to this debate. It is important for all concerned to hear what the House of Commons as a whole has to say on issues such as this.

Mr. Nicholas Bennett

My hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery) is attending a meeting upstairs.

Mr. Foot

The hon. Gentleman may have a good cause for not being here, but he makes interruptions in debates such as this and has suggested that the House should conduct itself in this way. As I say, he might attend here on occasions such as this because people can learn by listening to what is said in the Chamber.

The idea that we should have a cut and dried timetable for every Bill, with utter certainty about each measure going through in an allotted time, would do great injury to the House as a whole. After all, every Government, even the next Labour Government, would like such powers. We never sought such powers when we were in office. I accept that I introduced, and urged the House to introduce, guillotine motions on particular Bills. Indeed, we introduced five in a single day, as some people are kind enough to recall—[Interruption.]—but even then I said exactly what I am saying now, which is that it would be a great injury to the House of Commons to have cut and dried guillotine motions on all Bills. The Government would love to have such a power but, by the same reckoning, it would greatly injure the power of the House, including the power of Government Back Benchers.

That that is true is borne out by the experience of the last few years, and Conservative Members will recall the debates that took place on what is now the Official Secrets Act 1989. A guillotine was introduced on that measure at a late stage—not to control speeches by my hon. Friends, but to gag Conservative Members.

Is there anyone who does not think that that measure would have been better had the Government listened to what Back Benchers said, and had even gone to the extreme length of incorporating into the legislation some of the amendments tabled by their supporters? The Government would have done better from their point of view and from that of the legislation.

I urge the Government—as I urge the new Government who will be coming into office; nobody knows exactly when, but it is within a measurable time—not to be tempted by the idea of saying, "Let us have a cut and dried procedure so that we can get every Bill through in exactly the way we want."

If the Government take that attitude, they will, as my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin said, finish up with legislation with gross defects. No measure has ever been pushed through with grosser defects than the poll tax legislation. The Government could have saved themselves a great deal of trouble by listening to what hon. Members in all parts of the House said about that legislation.

Had the Government not used the guillotine, they might even have had time to think up some of the brilliant ideas on the poll tax about which we have heard in the last week or two. Indeed, they might even have put those ideas to the House and got them approved. That is the purpose of debates in the House. I have found over a number of years that debates in Committee are some of the best. Those debates, be they late at night or early in the morning, are some of the most important of all.

A prime example of the point I am making occurred only a week or so ago, when the hon. Member for Ealing, Acton voted against the Government, and I accept that he has had a creditable record on the type of issue that was then before the House. He did his best to persuade the Government to adopt his view. Although he did not quite succeed, anyone who listened to that debate—and I listened to most of it—could see that that is what the House of Commons is for.

My hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) made his case very effectively, but it was the cross-play of argument with several Conservative Members that made the debate a most memorable one. In the end, the Government had to give way, but it was not only because of the vote. I claim that those who listened to the debate could come to only one conclusion: that something had to be done.

If only the Government had been wise enough not to introduce the guillotine, the debates on the poll tax legislation could have been much better. The Government could have learnt something from the House of Commons and could have had second thoughts, but, far from learning from experience in the House of Commons, they rushed off to introduce the guillotine to deal with the situation.

I do not want to elaborate a point that has been made quite clearly, but I have to say that, so far as I can judge—and I am an expert on the subject—that is why the present Government's use of the guillotine has been far more dangerous, extensive and elaborate than that of any Government since the introduction of the mechanism by the Liberal party before the first world war. Previous Governments took some care. They paused before introducing the guillotine. That is the purpose of debates such as the one that we are now having, but even this debate has been cut down—to some extent, in my opinion, wrongly.

As things are going, it seems that the Government would like to make introduction of the guillotine a simple formality. The procedure is used so often that one might almost think that it was a formality already, that in every Bill there was a clause providing that, when the Committee stage or the Report stage has been reached, the guillotine will be brought in. The present Government have introduced more guillotines to curtail debate at this stage of Bills than any other Government in British history. By doing so, they have done injury to the House of Commons, but principally to themselves. The more this is done, the worse the government of the country becomes. I hope, therefore, that my right hon. and hon. Friends, when they are given the chance to run affairs, will resist any temptation to follow the present Government's example in this field—as in any other field. Indeed, I am sure that they will.

The Leader of the House comes into the Chamber with a real hangdog look on his face. Time and again he appears looking as if he has just come from a meeting with the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine). [Interruption.] I am glad to have from such high authority, confirmation that that is what the Leader of the House has been doing. That is his excuse. He will have to troop round the country to keep up with his right hon. Friend the Member for Henley.

Let me give the Leader of the House some advice. If he wants to finish off his right hon. Friend, we shall help him. We too think that the right hon. Gentleman is not fit to be Prime Minister. When it comes to a comparison, there is not much choice—"small choice in rotten apples", as Shakespeare would have said. If the Leader of the House really wants to deal with the right hon. Member for Henley, he has only to ask him why he voted so eagerly for the application of the poll tax in Scotland when he knew that it was going to be so injurious to England. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman has had the nerve to cross the Scottish border when he has been on his tours. He takes trips everywhere else. He should be invited to Scotland soon and asked to reply to that question.

All these matters could be dealt with properly if only the Government learned that they should provide time in the House for arguments to take place properly. That is why I oppose the motion in good conscience. The Minister for Social Security, who is to reply to the debate, knows something about the Bill. I am sure that he will try to defend the Government's position. No doubt he is as good a person to defend it as anybody; certainly he will be much better than the Leader of the House or the Patronage Secretary, with whose eloquence we had to content ourselves on the last guillotine motion.

It is better that the Minister should deal with the motion. He starts with a measure of good will. I am trying to dissipate some of it so that he does not have too easy a time. The Minister has a long record. I do not know who will be Leader of the House in the next Parliament, but I am sure that some hon. Members who are now on the Government side, and perhaps the Minister himself, will be on the Opposition Benches, remembering what I am saying today. They may reflect then on how wise I was.

If only the Government would get the message, how much better it would be for the country. When the Minister replies to the debate, I ask him not to make the formal reply which he has been given by the Leader of the House but to express the view which he would get from this side of the House in this and future debates.

4.41 pm
Mr. Roger King (Birmingham, Northfield)

It is always a pleasure to listen to the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot), with his not infrequent strictures on the introduction of guillotine motions. One feels that one is listening to a maestro who had the opportunity, when he was in a similar position to my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House, of obtaining an entry in the "Guinness Book of Records" for the greatest number of guillotine motions introduced in one day. We are well aware of that and we shall continue to remind the House of it when Opposition Members complain that we are guillotining happily.

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan)

Given that his Government have extended the guillotining process, does not the hon. Gentleman consider that there might be a danger that the next Government, whoever they may be, will extend the process further? Does not the hon. Gentleman worry about that?

Mr. King

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making that point. It pre-empts what I intended to say in a few moments; perhaps I may come to it now.

The main problem that we face in the House is that we have opposition for opposition's sake. It has been going on for many years. Opposition Members recounted that the Government introduced a guillotine on the Local Government Finance Act 1988, which introduced the community charge. If my memory serves me right, we debated that measure for 180 hours or longer. Try as we might, we could not obtain from the Opposition one element of their alternative policy. It was just mindless opposition for the sake of opposition. Not one shred of policy came from the Opposition. There is still not a shred of policy on their alternative to the community charge, although they have a vague idea of values about which they trumpet in by-elections, but no one knows what the values are. It is like saying, "If you do not like my principles, I have plenty more where they came from."

Mr. Holt

Did my hon. Friend hear the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould) on the radio the other morning? When he was asked by the interviewer if the Labour party had made up its mind on whether the future funding of local government would be by a property tax or a tax on each individual in the property, he said that that was one of the little points that Labour had not quite worked out.

Mr. King

That is right, but we are not here to debate the community charge. I should welcome that opportunity because we might have the chance to flush out Opposition policy. My point is that after 180 hours of endless debate in Committee and on the Floor of the House we could not obtain one shred of policy from the Opposition.

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Crawley)

My hon. Friend and I had the honour of serving in Committee on that Bill. Does he recall that Labour policy has changed twice since the Committee stage? Such policy as we were able to get out of the Opposition changed immediately afterwards, and it has subsequently changed again. What conclusions does my hon. Friend draw from that?

Mr. King

My hon. Friend invites me to draw conclusions. I note that the Labour party has introduced a flexible membership card, a credit card. It is like the party's policy—extremely flexible depending upon which by-election the party is contesting.

Mr. Brian Wilson (Cunninghame, North)


Mr. King

I am not giving way. I must get on because other hon. Members want to speak.

Not only did we have problems in flushing out any worthwhile opposition to the community charge and in obtaining concise, realistic debate, but we suffered the same experience on water privatisation. In my book that was an outstanding achievement for the Government. It has transformed the water and sewage industry and put it on a sound financial footing, which will deliver quality and efficiency to the consumer. Try as we might, all we got from the Opposition was mindless opposition with not a shred of alternative policy.

Mr. Wilson

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. There is a danger of the House being misled by the hon. Gentleman, although I am sure he has no intention of doing so. No doubt he would want to confirm to the House that he and the hon. Member for Crawley (Mr. Soames) were members of the Standing Committee on the Local Government Finance Bill, yet in all the hours of debate to which he referred they never opened their mouths.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)

Order. I should like to hear a little more about the Social Security Bill.

Mr. King

I shall not travel along the path that I have been invited to follow, except to point out that the hon. Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson) obviously does not yet know the workings of the House. He does not realise that as Parliamentary Private Secretaries my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Mr. Soames) and I were not by convention entitled to make a contribution in Committee. Of course, our views are well known to the Government.

If we were to conclude the debate on the motion fairly abruptly, we should have about 14 more hours' debate on the Bill. That is a considerable amount of time. Not only will we continue until 1 o'clock tomorrow morning, but we will come back next Tuesday to complete consideration of the measure.

The experience that we have obtained in the House over the past few years with the introduction of a 10-minute limit on speeches at certain times shows succinctly that contributions to the point can be made in a short time. Open-ended debate encourages excessive waffling and flannel, which is often all that we hear from the Opposition when they do not like a measure but have no realistic alternative to offer in its place.

We owe it to the country to have clear, concise debate. There is an argument for having a timetable for Bills when they receive their Second Reading. We should debate that issue. Those of us who spend considerable time in Committee debating a measure come back to the House to hear the same points being debated all over again. Long hours are required to accommodate that debate. Timetabling a debate would not mean glossing over some points. On the contrary, it would concentrate the minds of hon. Members in an efficient debate on the matters at the core of the legislation. For that reason, I welcome the motion, so that we can get on with the real business, which is to improve social security benefits.

4.48 pm
Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe)

I feel that it ought to be said from this side of the House, relative to the intervention of the hon. Member for Langbaurgh (Mr. Holt) during the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot), that the reason why my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) is not here is that he is attending a funeral, that of my late hon. Friend the Member for Bootle, Allan Roberts, whose untimely passing is so widely mourned. I am sure that the hon. Member, with his customary decency, will now understand.

If the guillotining of the National Health Service and Community Care Bill was a disgrace, the Government's action today plumbs new depths of infamy. Whereas the NHS Bill was debated in Committee for weeks of late night sittings, the Social Security Bill never disturbed Ministers' schedules beyond 1pm on but two days a week. That alone makes this a preposterous motion. It is one about which I feel very strongly and, unlike the hon. Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young), I shall certainly oppose it.

There has never been any suggestion of filibustering: nor did the Order Paper suggest that the Bill's remaining stages could not be completed in due time and without this motion. The only portent of filibustering has come from the Secretary of State himself, who, by yesterday, had tabled four new clauses, one new schedule and 65 amendments.

Social security affects the lives of every family in this country and they expect their concerns to be fully debated on the Floor of this House. Our new clauses and amendments—and indeed those tabled by hon. Members on both sides of the House—reflect their concern. Yet with this motion the Government are treating not only Parliament with studied contempt but all of our constituents who will be the victims of the huge cuts in public spending under this Bill.

Are Social Security Ministers so ashamed of their record that they wish to avoid debate? Do they not want to hear how people with AIDS are being forced to beg from charities for essential food and for items which the Department used to provide before 1986? Last year, charities provided £350,000 to people with AIDS, not for luxuries but for basic subsistence. Is not that both extremely cruel and deeply scandalous?

Does the Secretary of State not want to defend in detail the laughable claims that private occupational sick pay schemes provide adequate earnings-related cover for long-term sickness? Is he afraid to have fully debated in the House how severely disabled young people have their severe disablement allowance withdrawn? Is he hiding from the vast evidence of the need for personal care and assistance revealed by the independent living fund? Does he want to avoid having to make a definitive statement about the independent living fund's current financial crisis, which, if it is not resolved soon, could lead to people with disabilities having to return to lives of dependence?

The guillotine is calculated to prevent any meaningful debate on new clauses and amendments which are of the first importance to disabled people and which now have scant, if any, likelihood of being discussed. As the Secretary of State must know, many of these suggested changes to the Bill reflect the deep concern of the all-party disablement group.

Does the Secretary of State want to avoid discussion of the comments flowing from all sides on that pitiful document "The Way Ahead"? Many of the organisations of and for disabled people say it should have been christened "The Way Backwards". Peter Large, of the Disablement Income Group—than whom no one is more qualified to comment—has described "The Way Ahead" as Nothing but a narrowing stony ledge", and he says that ministerial talk about a more coherent system of benefits is a sign of delirium.

The Secretary of State may recognise new clause 18, since it is practically identical to the clause inserted into the Social Security Act 1973. When Labour came to office in March 1974 it was abundantly clear that the outgoing Tory Administration had given no thought at all to the requirements of that part of the Act. Yet in six months the then Labour Government had published its proposals for the mobility allowance, which now goes to 615,000 people; for the invalid care allowance; and for the noncontributory invalidity pension.

I must congratulate Conservative Members on one thing. When they were in opposition there were no more enthusiastic proponents of increasing the social security budget. Indeed it became a standing joke in the Department that their next ten-minute rule Bill would seek to extend mobility allowance to pole-vaulters.

The Secretary of State is backing this motion only because he is profoundly ashamed of the record of the Government in which he serves. The House should reject the motion with the contempt that it demonstrates for the countless needful people who will lose from the provisions in the Bill.

Mr. Holt

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. In the light of the statement made by the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris), I feel that my criticism of the shadow Leader of the House may well have been misplaced and in the circumstances I should like to withdraw it.

4.55 pm
Mr. Nicholas Bennett (Pembroke)

The real reasons why we are debating a guillotine motion today are not those given by the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Grocott), who opened the debate for the Opposition, but are given in the Morning Star and the Daily Mirror yesterday. On page 8, the Morning Star said: Labour MPs plan a 23-hour all-night Commons sitting tomorrow", and the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) is quoted in the Daily Mirror as saying: Labour MPs plan to force an all-night Commons session tomorrow". We know what all-night Commons sittings are about, and they are certainly not about debating Bills in detail. They are about filibustering and ensuring that time is wasted to prove some sort of parliamentary virility symbol.

We want a proper debate on the important subject before the House. I recall that, during the debates two weeks ago on the National Health Service and Community Care Bill—I was a member of the Committee on that Bill —I sat in the Chamber at 3 o'clock in the morning listening to a speech by the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr Michael) that went on for 32 minutes. The whole purpose of his amendment was merely to make local health district boundaries and community health council district boundaries the same as the local authority districts. It took him 32 minutes to say precisely that.

Labour Members then went on for another two and a half hours, making the same points over and over again. The hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) made two speeches, one lasting one hour and 48 minutes and the other lasting more than an hour, on small points in the Bill. Having had that recent example, we are right to take heed of the public warnings in the national press that they intend to do the same with this Bill.

We know the reasons why the Opposition made all that fuss two weeks ago about the National Health Service and Community Care Bill. In Committee, we had a reasoned debate and went through the Bill sensibly, but their union paymasters in the National Union of Public Employees and in the Confederation of Health Service Employees were unhappy about the reasoned and moderate debates on that Bill and were determined that there should be a fuss on the Floor of the House.

Now the Opposition are seeking to do the same on this Bill. Having had a reasoned and sensible Committee stage, they want to create a rumpus on the Floor of the House, because that is where the television cameras are. That is why the Labour party is taking that attitude on Bill after Bill. We have reasoned debates in Committee; then there is a row and rumpus and synthetic indignation in the Chamber.

I listened with great interest to the speech by the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot). When it comes to timetable motions, as my right hon. Friend the Member for—I am sorry I am promoting him before his time—my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. King) said, the right hon. Gentleman is an expert. He takes the cake for guillotine motions. He never missed an opportunity to speak on them. The right hon. Gentleman is entirely consistent. When in opposition, he is always against guillotine motions, and when he is in government he is a firm supporter of them.

Mr. Holt

The right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot), who was Leader of the House, criticised my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House for not being here. I wonder whether we shall hear similar criticism of the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Grocott), who is standing in for the shadow Leader of the House, for not being here to listen to the debate.

Mr. Bennett

My hon. Friend makes a good point. What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

As we know, the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent is the expert on these matters. No one has beaten his record for introducing five guillotine motions in one day, which he did on 20 July 1976—a date that will no doubt live for ever in the right hon. Gentleman's memory.

The right hon. Gentleman has spent a lifetime proclaiming himself a great libertarian and constitutionalist and a great upholder of the rights of the House of Commons. We heard it all again today. We should be more prepared to listen to the right hon. Gentleman and believe what he said if we had not had experience of his record in office from 1974 to 1979. First, as Leader of the House, he introduced five guillotine motions in one day. Then, as Secretary of State for Employment, he moved motion after motion to enforce the closed shop and force people to join trade unions.

When this great libertarian, who has spent his life telling us what a great constitutionalist he is, had the power to put his principles into practice, he did exactly the opposite. I shall bear that in mind when I listen to his lectures.

I want to conclude by quoting from Hansard.

Mr. Roger King

The lesson for the day.

Mr. Bennett

As my hon. Friend says, the lesson for the day.

My quotation is this; We see a Labour Government as having a right and a duty to legislate against any attempts to frustrate us in the end from exercising our rights of legislation, whether in this House or in another place—and, of course, it is a particular illustration of the malice, folly and absurdity into which right hon. and hon. Members on the Opposition side have got themselves that when we exercise those ancient rights it is cheating and when they exercise them it is freedom."—[Official Report, 20 July 1976; Vol. 915, c. 1543.] Those were the words of the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent when he moved the five guillotine motions on 20 July 1976.

As I said, what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. If the right hon. Gentleman's Government were entitled to move those guillotine motions, the present Government are entitled to move the guillotine motion on the Social Security Bill to ensure that we can have a proper and rational debate on this important measure and that we do not face a filibuster—the macho-virility symbol of a weak and divided Opposition.

5.2 pm

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)

For a weak and divided Opposition, we did not do badly in Mid-Staffordshire where the electorate decided on a swing of 21 per cent. in favour of Labour. The previous speech came from one of the most noxious Tories, although there are a number of candidates for the title so it is difficult to single out the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Bennett).

Both the hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. King) said that they would support the guillotine motion because of their experience of the National Health Service and Community Care Bill. Anyone capable of an objective assessment could fairly claim that not only did we have a debate on important issues throughout the night on that Bill, but that a number of Labour Members were not called in the debate. We were anxious to talk about the balloting provisions for the opting-out process, and so on. So many of us were present that we could not all be called. In all, four Opposition Members were not called, not because there was a guillotine but because the House wanted to get on to another subject. It is simply not true to say that there was an organised filibuster.

The National Health Service and Community Care Bill is of extreme concern because its effects will be so damaging. We therefore wanted to get our remarks on the record in Hansard to make it clear beyond peradventure that we oppose the damage that the Bill will do to the National Health Service and that we shall restore the National Health Service as a full public service after the next general election when we will be swept into office with a mandate to do that.

The same is true of the Social Security Bill. It may be shorter than the National Health Service and Community Care Bill, but it is important. The Minister knows full well that his Department produces some of the most shoddy legislation with some of the most shoddy appendages of secondary legislation. It is responsible for the most errors and its legislation is subject to the greatest number of court cases. The Bill is shorter than the NHS Bill, but it still has 18 clauses, six schedules and 55 pages and includes in its provisions the repeal of nearly 100 sections of several other Acts. Perhaps we should help the Minister to avoid further court actions. One of the new proposals tabled by the Minister would reverse a court action that his Department sustained, which reversed the aim and effect of legislation previously passed by the House. It might not be a bad idea to spend some extra time on a matter which, by common consent of hon. Members on both sides of the House—it is a question of fact—is subject to the most challenges in court.

The reason for that is that Social Security Bills affect most people in the country. This Bill will affect as many people as the National Health Service and Community Care Bill, if not more. Fortunately, some people go through life without ever having to be treated in a National Health Service hospital. Some go through life without even having to see their GP. But it is rare for people not to have to consider some aspect or other of social security, for themselves or for a relative. That is why the allocation of time motion is ill advised and ill judged.

The guillotine motion will have two effects. In the ordinary course of debate, the House creates its own discipline. There is usually the sense that hon. Members want to move to a vote. People say, "Do not speak for too long because we want to vote at 10 o'clock." Everyone knows that that happens. In addition to removing that voluntary discipline, which requires no imposition by the Whips, the guillotine removes the initiative from the Opposition and places it with the Government. With a guillotine, the Government and their supporters know that they can talk for as long as they choose and rob the Opposition of the opportunity to advance their case. The longer they take, the less time the Opposition will have, and the guillotine will fall, irrespective of who takes up the time.

In Committee, it is an entirely different matter. My hon. Friend the Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson) raised a point of order about the situation that obtained in the Committee on the last Local Government Finance Bill. We have heard expostulations from the hon. Member for Northfield to the effect that we have had plenty of discussion. We know that, in Committee, he kept quiet. The general instruction to Government supporters in Committee is to keep quiet and not to take up the time because the Government want to get their Bill through. That means that the initiative is with the Opposition, and that is right and proper.

We are here to criticise and it is interesting to hear Tory Members say that Opposition Members are here simply for the sake of opposing. They say that they want an opposition in eastern Europe. They have not said that they want a tame opposition in Germany, Hungary, Czechoslovakia and the other eastern European countries. They did not say of Romania that Ceausescu should have an opposition but only if they were a tame opposition who did not challenge Ceausescu's Government. But that is what they say they want here. They say that we are opposing for the sake of opposing. That is patently untrue. We seek to challenge the Government and we need time to do that.

The trouble with guillotining is that it diminishes the opportunity for proper debate and robs the Opposition of their main job of scrutinising legislation. That has to be done because most Conservative Members are subservient and will not challenge their own party's legislation. They are frightened to do so after the Mid-Staffordshire by-election.

Mr. Roger King

Opposition for opposition's sake is not a good thing. Opposition against a background of proper policies is something else, but Labour does not have any policies. Will the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) say whether he is in favour of a timetable motion —yes or no?

Mr. Cryer

I am opposed to the timetable motion before the House and shall vote against it, and I have tabled amendments to try to make the motion more equitable.

When a Labour Government introduced timetable motions, which have been well debated this afternoon, Lord Hailsham described that Government as an elective dictatorship. At the time, we did not have a majority, so we were never certain of getting anything through the House —let alone a guillotine motion. We had to convince the minority parties in debate that they should vote with us.

What of the comments of Lord Hailsham and his cronies today? Given that the Government have an overall majority over Labour in this House of 150, and over other Opposition parties of 100, the timetable motion is a good example of an elective dictatorship imposing its will on this House and robbing the Opposition of an opportunity to oppose legislation—in just the same petty way that the Government introduced several statements yesterday, to try to rob us of the opportunity to present the victor in the Mid-Staffordshire by-election at a time convenient to most right hon. and hon. Members, and when my new hon. Friend would have been seen by millions taking her seat. The Government's tactic did not work but merely focused more attention on the newest Member of the House—showing again that the Government are losing their touch.

Mr. Nicholas Bennett

Does the hon. Gentleman recall this quote: A timetable motion is an exceedingly sensible addition to a Bill … The principle of a timetable motion is highly commendable as a general rule. It is not cutting down debate".—[Official Report, 20 July 1976; Vol. 915, c. 1728-29.] Those were the words of the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) on 20 July 1976, when speaking to timetable motions on the Rent (Agriculture) Bill and Education Bill.

Mr. Cryer

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for drawing attention to my words on that occasion. I am all in favour of quoting from Hansard. Right hon. and hon. Members are on record for the very purpose of ensuring some accountability. The Government are trying to remove that accountability from the Opposition and to fill out the time available within a guillotine with speeches by Tory Members, thereby robbing Opposition Members of the right to place their views on the record.

Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax)

The hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Bennett) does not have a good record for consistency. He spoke of the National Health Service and Community Care Bill, on whose Committee I also served. The hon. Gentleman is on record as signing an early-day motion in support of enrolled nurses having a right to training, yet when I moved an amendment for that purpose he voted against because he thought that that would go unnoticed in Committee.

Mr. Cryer

My hon. Friend makes the valuable point that all the comments and views expressed by right hon. and hon. Members are open to scrutiny. I am certainly willing to stand by my own past comments.

Ms. Short

All right hon. and hon. Members would agree that there must be guillotines in some circumstances, because every Government must get their business through Parliament. However, today's debate centres on our desire to raise a series of questions on social security measures that have hurt people throughout Britain. I refer to the Government's failure to provide proper pensions, child benefit, treatment of the homeless, and so on.

My right hon. and hon. Friends and I are willing to stay up through the night to debate those matters. We have made it clear that we are not trying to jeopardise tomorrow's business. The timetable motion is an attempt to prevent Opposition Members from raising those issues so that lazy Conservative Members can go to bed.

Mr. Cryer

My hon. Friend echoes my point that the Opposition have a serious purpose in mind in opposing the timetable motion. We are concerned that legislation leaving the House should be as clear and unambiguous and equitable as possible. If any Conservative Member wants evidence of my genuine concern, I remind the House that I spent hours, as Chair of the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, ensuring that that was done. Statutory instruments of the Department of Social Security have often had to he reported to the House because of their ambiguity and unusual use of power. We make a just and valid claim when we say that our action is motivated by concern about the Government's attempts to compress, for example, Government new clauses 23 and 26 into one hour of debate, as they intend to do also with new clauses 1 to 6 and new clauses 7 and 8. My amendment would extend the final guillotine from 1 am to 2 am, which would give the House an opportunity to debate more thoroughly new clauses 7 and 8.

New clause 7 is complicated, and relates to applicable amounts, and new clause 8 encapsulates a private Member's Bill dealing with Crown employees exposed to radiation. I refer to service men who ran that risk in the service of their country, and who are a body of people normally much admired by Conservative Members. My amendment would allow the House to debate and reach a decision on the provision of compensation for former Crown employees suffering from leukaemia; cancer of the thyroid, breast, pharynx, oesophagus, stomach, small intestine or pancreas; multiple myeloma; lymphomas except Hodgkin's disease; cancer of the bile ducts or gall bladder; or primary liver cancer, except if caused by cirrhosis or hepatitis B. Those diseases have been contracted by people as a result of their service to the Crown and exposure to radiation, and they now rightly seek compensation—such as that paid in the United States of America, where proper legislation already exists.

The House should have an opportunity to debate new clause 8 extensively, but it is squashed into one hour together with new clause 7. What is the betting that the Tory Whips will organise Tory Members to vote against it?

New clause 8 does not have the support only of Labour Members, which is why my amendments place particular emphasis on giving more time to debate that new clause in particular. Eight Tories, 11 Labour Members, two SDP Members, one Liberal, and one Scottish National party Member put their names to that new clause, so it has the support of a cross-section of the House. I hope that the Government will encourage their own Members to support new clause 8 in the Lobby, and so provide a little help to literally hundreds, if not thousands, of people who have suffered ill effects as a consequence of their service to this country. We shall see what happens.

New clause 8 was tabled because a handful of Tory Members set out to sabotage the private Member's Bill on the same subject, which should have enjoyed a consensus of the House. Instead, there was filibustering on its Second Reading to prevent the Bill from progressing further.

My second amendment would extend the time available for Third Reading by two hours, to 12 midnight. I am willing to remain here for that length of time, as are my right hon. and hon. Friends, because the legislation is important enough to justify doing so. The guillotine is trampling on the rights of Parliament and the good work of the Opposition, but it will avail the Government absolutely nothing, as the Mid-Staffordshire by-election amply demonstrated.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Does the hon. Gentleman wish to move his amendment (a)?

Mr. Cryer

Yes, formally.

Amendment proposed: (a), in paragraph (i), leave out '1.00 am' and insert '2.00 am'.—{Mr. Cryer.]

5.19 pm
Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills)

We are here as citizens chosen by our fellow citizens to represent them here in what used to be referred to when I was growing up as parliamentary Government. It reflects the truth that Churchill identified, which is that the people are sovereign. We give authority to Governments and substance to the rule of law. I remind right hon. and hon. Members, following the speech of the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot), the former Leader of the Opposition, that our authority, springing from the people, is the very basis of that power and, as Burke said, parliamentary democracy is not just the number of our people divided by two plus one; it is the whole process of argument and reason. Although we may disagree, ultimately authority is secured for acquiescence on the basis of the process of argument and reason.

It is not on the merits of the guillotine today or another guillotine that I rise to make that remembrance. Last Session we passed 11 guillotines with the greatest parliamentary majority conceivable in a parliamentary democracy. In 1945, when a Labour Government were elected with perhaps the most radical programme of any Government in the history of our nation, they did not use the guillotine as far as I can recall, and if they did it is almost unidentifiable. That Government brought in legislation that transformed the nation and touched on great passions for the right and for the left. Yet they were able to secure the business of the country without truncating and cutting out debate.

I reflect on that time because it is discussed in Leo Amery's book "Thoughts on the Constitution" which examines the legislative programme of that Labour Government to which he was not particularly well disposed. In one parliamentary Session they passed some 70 pieces of legislation without the need to resort to a guillotine.

Mr. Holt

My hon. Friend has just identified the nub of the problem we face today, which is not the size of the Government's majority or the Government's radical proposals, but the actions and behaviour of the Opposition. Attlee's Government were not faced with an intransigent mob as we are today.

Mr. Shepherd

I note what my hon. Friend said. Perhaps as Milton said in "Areopagitica", we ought to have a little tolerance of each other. That is true, but it is not a requirement of membership of the House to be particularly tolerant. Our duty is to scrutinise legislation because on our authority it becomes the law of the land.

I said that last Session we had 11 guillotines and supplemental guillotines—something I had not encountered before. I well recall that we used a guillotine motion to secure one hour's debate because the Government were so nervous.

The prejudgment of issues is a foolish approach to our business. After all, it is perhaps during debate that we realise the wrongness or the weight of arguments that we had not prejudged or considered would have arisen. I have been in the House for 11 years and I have watched Ministers and right hon. and hon. Members discover the point of opposing and conflicting arguments. That is an extremely important process which would be damaged by a rush into curtailment of debate.

My purpose was not to take up much of the time of the House but to reinforce time and again that it is in the interests of the Government that I support to be extraordinarily cautious in their approach to guillotines. There has been much reference to going through the night and the poverty of discussion through the night, but there is no reason why we should go through the night. There is nothing wrong with the parliamentary year. We could stage the Bill over three days.

Leo Amery, the father of a very distinguished right hon. Member, pointed out that Second Readings, which often contain the principles of Bills, often took two or three days. Now we are shocked at the very thought of something taking a day. In some instances I have sat here when important pieces of legislation have been given only half a day for Second Reading. We then think that 180 hours in Committee—after all, it is to our advantage for there to be scrupulousness in Committee—justifies condensing important legislation covering, in some instances, hundreds of clauses into a few hours of debate. That serves us ill.

Last year when the Water Bill was under a guillotine, we considered about 300 additional amendments, a large number of which were tabled by the Government and 80 of which were substantive. It is a shame to ourselves as citizens representing fellow citizens that we charged that through. Of course, our courts are now lumbered with cases trying to identify what we intended through the legislative words that we used.

Mr. William O'Brien (Normanton)

Will the hon. Gentleman also take into consideration the fact that more than 500 Government amendments to the Local Government and Housing Bill were tabled, and that about 600 Government amendments were tabled to the Local Government Finance Bill which dealt with the poll tax? Many of those amendments were not discussed, but we now know the result of incorporating them.

Mr. Shepherd

I presume that the hon. Gentleman's intervention was intended to support my contention.

Governments are formed and given authority by the House. Now, all too often the tail wags the dog. This is parliamentary Government and it requires us properly and responsibly to return to our fellow citizens and say that we have honourably considered the legislation. There is nothing partisan in that as one day we may be in opposition and all the calls that we now hear from the Opposition will be our calls.

It is true, tedious, tiresome and sad for our nation that Ministers one day demand the necessity of a guillotine and the following day, as we have just heard from the Opposition, they stand on the other side of the House and say that it is outrageous. I have never been given the Queen's commission to serve on the Treasury Bench, and I do not expect that call immediately, but I know that that dual approach, that almost duplicity of saying one thing from the Treasury Bench and another thing from Opposition Benches as if it were only a partisan exchange, loses the essential flame of what we are about and our authority. Our authority is to redress the grievances of people and to give authority to the Government so that they may govern, as the Treasury Bench exists only because of the House of Commons being given authority by the people out there. Consistently, time and again, we are throwing through ill-considered legislation.

I am sorry that my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House has more important business elsewhere, as has the Patronage Secretary, and I am sorry that those on the Labour Front Bench have responded in like measure. [HON. MEMBERS: "We are here."] I apologise, as those on the Labour Front Bench have returned.

The guillotine ill serves my party's interests, but most of all it diminishes the authority of the House when it is treated so disdainfully by the constant pressure to get ill-considered legislation through the House.

5.29 pm
Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire)

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd), who made a powerful and passionate speech with which I agree entirely.

Governments must reserve the right, in principle, to table guillotine motions, but they must be used more sparingly than they are being used by this Administration. For that specific reason, I object to the motion.

If I understood the justification for the motion given by the Leader of the House, it is that too many new clauses have been tabled. However, that applies not only to the official Opposition—I understand that the usual channels operate principally between the two major parties—because other parties are involved. Back Benchers must also be considered, yet the Leader of the House ignored them when trying to justify the motion.

There is no justification for the motion. The Government forget that we return to the subject of social security every year. Therefore, it is not open to them to say, "If we do not seize this opportunity it will be five or 10 years before we can deal with these issues." There is no reason for the Government's indecent haste in tabling the new clauses that they have inflicted on the House.

I could not agree more with the point made by the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills. It does the House no service for the Government so regularly to table guillotine motions. I object to the fact that they have complete control of the time that is allocated. If they said, "We shall allocate the time and the Opposition can use it how they wish," it would allow more efffective opposition and enable them to have their legislation within the limits of their timetable.

The Government's new clauses take up much space on the Amendment Paper. Clause 21 is three and a half pages long. We have been given ludicrously little time to scrutinise clauses of such length. That demeans the process of democracy and makes it impossible for Opposition Members effectively to scrutinise legislation.

The Government could have waited before tabling new clause 19. They have had the report of the Occupational Pensions Board for almost a year. It has been tabled because they made a hash of drafting the Bill. Instead of being pushed through under the guillotine, it should have waited until next year.

New clause 21, which is three and a half pages long, which applies to the liability for maintenance of dependants, is of fundamental and far-reaching importance. That idea appeared in the Government's mind after a fevered sleepless night. Instead of waiting until next year's Social Security Bill, they have stuck it on to the fag end of the Report stage of this Bill, without any justification whatever.

New clause 22 is a direct response to the Government's duffing up by the courts. The courts will not be grateful for the Government's response. The new clause acts retrospectively and changes the provisions that have obtained since 1975 to what the Government thought they should have been in the first place. Earlier, the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Grocott) said that that is not how we should amend legislation. That procedure is not guaranteed to succeed and will not make it simpler for the courts to interpret the Bill.

New clause 23 results from another bloody nose that the Government got from the courts on the iniquitous way that the social fund is being administered. It is ridiculous that the Government have tabled it at such short notice. The same applies to new clause 26. We had a substantial debate on income support on the National Health Service and Community Care Bill.

The Government's new clauses are not necessary to amend social security legislation and are not in the interests of proper and effective scrutiny. After we have considered those new clauses, what time will be left for other amendments?

I take exception to the suggestion of the Leader of the House that, on Report, hon. Members can only refine what was done in Committee. My party was unable to serve on the Committee that considered the Bill. I make no complaint about that, because the minority parties were as well represented as they could have been, but some hon. Members do not have the benefit of serving on Standing Committees. It is wrong for the House to accept that on Report hon. Members are doing only a wee bit of fine tuning.

The Standing Committee did honest and sensible work, but it is an important part of hon. Members' work to scrutinise de novo the work done in Committee as well as that done on Second Reading. The Chair is advised, perfectly properly, about the priority of the amendments, but the idea that we should only refine what was done in Committee should not be given currency or support.

I make a plea on behalf of the minority parties for less business in the House. Other legislative processes in other constituent parts of the United Kingdom might make the Minister's job easier. The Government should take the sensible course and establish a Scottish Parliament with responsibility for some of these matters. The House could then discuss legislation at its leisure. The legislative process would be none the worse for that.

Members of the official Opposition are girding their loins for retaliation. If guillotine motions are being moved before the long, hot summer season starts, goodness knows how many long and tedious nights we shall spend not doing ourselves any credit because we cannot properly scrutinise legislation in the early hours of the morning. That is not a sensible way to run the country. I hope that the Government will think seriously before moving future guillotine motions, which are bad for business and bad for the legislation that hon. Members have to scrutinise.

5.28 pm
Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

I shall be brief. Later this evening, we shall debate new clause 1 on community charge benefits, which was tabled by the Opposition. The political issues of the greatest significance and most interest to our constituents are those surrounding the community charge.

Before we dispatch the Bill, it is important that we have further discussion and debate on the amendments, and perhaps further amendments on how to deal with some of the problems that will face our constituents because of the community charge. I believe that that is vital and—

Mr. Richard Shepherd


Mr. Marlow

Yes, essential.

I speak as someone who supports the principle and idea behind the community charge. It is right that everyone should pay towards the costs of local government and it is wrong that people should be able to vote for a local authority, and sometimes vote in extravagant local authorities, when they do not foot the bill.

The levels of community charge that are being presented are way above the levels that Conservative Members and even the Government anticipated. That is due, in part, to local authorities being extravagant in their expenditure. However, that is the position with which we are faced.

Like other hon. Members, I recently canvassed my constituents. I knocked on one door, said who I was and asked the lady what she thought about the community charge. She burst into tears—[AN HON. MEMBER: "She saw you standing there."] I am trying to make a serious speech on a serious issue. That lady's distress had nothing to do with being anti-Government or anti-Tory; it was because she was confronted with the problem of trying to cope with the financial burden being put on her household. She is probably entitled to transitional relief or rebate, but she was not aware of that. She lives in a small terraced house and she has been confronted with an additional financial burden with which she cannot cope.

Some couples with relatively low pay will have to find an additional £5 per week virtually from thin air. Where will they find it? Other couples have to find up to an additional £9 per week virtually from thin air. In some cases, their pay has risen little or not at all. I am talking about relatively low-paid people living in small houses in inner-city areas.

Pensioners are deeply concerned about the attrition of their savings. I am glad that the Government have done something about that, but I wonder whether it is enough. There is a great deal of anxiety about the levels of community charge, which range between £250 and £500, and it is an unfair anxiety. I know that the Government are aware of the problems, as they, too, have been taken by surprise by the levels of community charge. I know that they want to do something about that, but they say that they will do it next year. That is no good; it must be done this year. The current position is unfair and unreasonable.

The levels of community charge—whether £250, £450 or £500—must be reduced. Local authorities have made their predictions and set their budgets, so there is no point in saying that we cannot put more money into the system because local authorities will spend it. Any money that we put into the system now will go straight to our constituents to reduce the fearsome burden that concerns them so much.

We can and should do that, but how? There should be a national rebate of the community charge. That will cost money, which must come from somewhere. Last week's Budget will be followed by a Finance Bill, and we can change the Budget details through that. Instead of increasing tax thresholds, they should be maintained at their current level and the tax raised used to reduce each person's community charge by £42. There could be a 1p increase in income tax. People are concerned that the community charge is regressive rather than progressive. If 1p is put on income tax, those who earn the money would pay more towards it.

By those two means, we could reduce each person's community charge by between £80 and £100. That would bring charges down to between £150 and £350. No one will whinge or think it unfair if they have to pay £150 for everything that is provided by local government. Those who would pay £350 would say, "Why are we paying more?"

The main purpose of the community charge is to introduce accountability, and under those circumstances accountability would work. Presently, everyone feels that he has an unfair burden and is paying too much. If there are problems on the streets and if there are problems with non-payment, to a certain extent people will sympathise and the community charge that I support and that I believe is the only proper and sensible way to finance local government will never be properly launched. The Government must bring down the levels this year, find the money from central taxation and so remove the anxieties of many people.

If the community charge is a fair and proper system, it will work and there will be accountability. There will be problems over the next six months if the Government leave it until next year to introduce changes. How will accountability work if the system is different next year, and the fudge by local councils this year of increasing expenditure will also happen next year? It is only fair that there should be changes and that they should be made now. There should be a national rebate of between £80 and £100, and that could be done through this Bill. I very much hope that the Government are listening.

5.45 pm
Mr. John Battle (Leeds, West)

Occasionally, in what are becoming these all-too-frequent debates, our politics are rightly called back to some of the basic principles and practices of parliamentary democracy. That was shown in the speeches of my right hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) and the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd). To my mind, what characterises Parliament under this Government is that it is pushed to its limits. The legislative programme is far too heavy. Controversial material is introduced which is clearly not thought out and which is then forced through by whipping rather than being properly considered. It appears that legislation is now the Whips' business rather than an issue for debate and scrutiny.

I was surprised by the speech of the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow), because there is no proper discussion. Two years ago, Opposition Members, in Committee and again on the Floor of the House, outlined precisely the effects of introducing the poll tax and showed who would pay the price. The record shows that in Committee we asked whether there would be any transitional relief. "No," was the reply at the time. Judging from the shouts across the Chamber the other night, it appears that Conservative Members still think that there can be a 100 per cent. rebate. Most of us, and certainly the public, know that, on the instruction of the Prime Minister, every person must pay a minimum of 20 per cent. of their poll tax, regardless of ability to pay.

The hon. Gentleman called upon the Government to take action now, not next year. They had the opportunity to take action not last year, but the year before. We are slightly encouraged that at least some Conservative Members were willing to listen to the argument and the debate and to vote for sensible clauses to ameliorate the destructive elements of the poll tax.

It is not long since we faced a similar position with the National Health Service and Community Care Bill. I sat in the Chamber throughout the whole of the Report stage, waiting to speak. As the hon. Member for AldridgeBrownhills reminded us, we are elected to raise matters on behalf of our constituents. I did not have the privilege of serving on the Committee that considered that Bill. Although my constituents face proposals for self-governing hospital trusts, and although there are great worries about doctors' contracts, I could not raise those matters on behalf of my constituents because the timetable motion ruled out those clauses from the business of the House.

I served on the Committee that considered this Bill and, as has been said, the Committee stage was both reasonable and sensible. One reason for that—we make no apology for it—was our right to reserve our position and not to vote on every item in the Bill. We did not want the Bill to be guillotined in Committee. The Government accepted that we would again raise certain topics when the Bill returned to the Floor of the House. Those matters are of great importance, and hon. Members need to hear the arguments and vote on the issues.

That is why we tabled new clauses. As a result of the guillotine motion, I will not be able to speak on the clauses to which my name appears. Those new clauses deal with the uprating for pensioners and social security benefits for the families of prisoners, who do not receive them at the moment because of an anomaly in the law. In Committee, the Minister said that, if we brought that issue back to the Floor of the House, we could sort out that minor anomaly. That will not happen, because of the guillotine motion. I represent one of the most overcrowded prisons in the country, and because of the guillotine motion I will have difficulty in representing my constituents today.

The Bill originally had 18 clauses, but there are 17 Government new clauses on the Amendment Paper today. That represents almost a new Bill. The new clauses introduce completely new material as a result of the Government's failure in shoddy legislation in other Bills.

One of the Government new clauses results from the fact that the High Court overruled the Government on the social fund regulations. That new clause is not the result of Opposition filibustering; it is the result of bad legislation, which the Opposition opposed at the time. The Government were caught out by the courts and they have been forced to alter the Bill to try to sort the matter out and ratify their position.

The Government lost a vote on Report on the National Health Service and Community Care Bill on the issue of residential care, so they have had to find a convenient Bill on to which to tag an alteration to correct that position. That explains the reason behind another of the Government's new clauses. That new clause and the one about the social fund have nothing to do with issues that we discussed in Committee.

We are entitled to ask what the Government are scared of. Are they scared of the official Opposition, or are they afraid of opposition on the Government Benches? The Government appear to be afraid of opening up the issues that surround the Bill and the new clauses, because this Government will go down in history as the Government who punished the poor and presided over increasing poverty in our society.

The poor are being economically and socially marginalised. They are also being politically marginalised off the agenda through the arcane guillotine games that the Government are playing. The Government are prepared to redefine the poor away by refusing to accept a standard definition of poverty. They are also attempting to manipulate discussion on those issues off the agenda. The Government can ignore contradictory evidence and they will distort the language, but they have consistently avoided any serious debate of the devastating impact that social security legislation has had on poverty.

It is important that we raise such issues if we are to understand the relationship between the Budget and social security legislation. There is a deliberate hidden fiscal policy to price out the poor. When we consider the inter-working of taxation and the Budget with the benefit system, it is clear that taxes have been redistributed. Income is being taken from the pockets of the poor and put into the wallets of the rich.

The most blatant example of that was the poll tax referred to by the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow). It is amazing how late in the day Conservative Members have woken up to the effects of legislation which the Government are putting through the House. The poll tax has plainly been designed to fall more heavily on the poor than on the rich. That is what the Secretary of State at the time claimed that it was designed to do. It was not supposed to offer real protection, because it takes no account of the ability to pay.

Late in the day, after the poll tax Bill has been passed and after Conservative Members voted for it, they are now voicing their disquiet. At least some Conservative Members listened to the debate and perhaps voted accordingly. However, it is amazing how many Conservative Members now pretend that they did not vote for the poll tax Bill and that they did not vote against the Opposition clauses which warned people what would happen.

This guillotine motion prevents us from considering the Bill which contains reductions in the severe disablement allowance and in the reduced earnings allowance. In Committee, we served notice on the Government that we would bring those issues back to the Floor of the House, because the country has a right to know what the Government are doing in social security legislation.

We have not had an opportunity to discuss the report from the Government Actuary. It is about time that we had an opportunity properly to discuss the distribution of wealth and income and the condition of the poor in our society. The Government have initiated no such debate. The document to which I want to refer is entitled the "Report by the Government Actuary on the drafts of the Social Security Benefits Up-rating Order 1990 and the Social Security (Contributions) (Re-rating) Order 1990" and was published in January.

The report offers an interesting clue to the future, which does not appear in any other Government document. Paragraph 10(i) contains an assumption that the number of unemployed people in Britain will rise to 1.75 million in 1990–91. That is a clear prediction that unemployment will rise. Paragraph 21 is more interesting, in that it relates to the effect of different assumptions on unemployment and earnings. It states that, if the average number of unemployed people was to be 100,000 higher and corresponding assumptions were made, the contribution income in 1989–90 would be £110 million lower and expenditure would rise by £65 million. That means that there will be an 8.5 per cent. fall in the national insurance fund as a result of rising unemployment in the next financial year. There will be a net loss of £175 million.

It is not good enough for the Government to tell us now that they cannot pay the pensioners their uprating, and that they must push the poor down. It is no good the Government saying that they cannot do more at the margins to assist people facing the poll tax and that they can only tinker at the edges of the savings concessions. It is not good enough for them to say that there is not enough money. They are taking money by failing to uprate benefits and pensions. Government reports state that it is more politically expedient to take funds from the poor and excluded in our society, including the unemployed, than to have a system under which there is a fairer and more equitable distribution of taxes at local or national level.

It is about time that we had a thorough debate on those matters. In its original form, this Bill contained only brief bits of policy on a wide range of topics. It has turned into a rag bag as a result of the Government's failure in other areas of policy, and that failure was highlighted in the High Court. Other Bills have been thrown into this one as a result of court decisions and because the Government failed in other Bills. While I have been a Member of this place, a huge amount of legislation has come before the House. A great number of Bills have come before the House every Session. Despite the Government's attempt to bludgeon those Bills through, as a result of our failure to give those Bills full and proper critical scrutiny, the public have been delivered of a raft of shoddy legislation.

It is amazing that Conservative Members will vote for the guillotine motion and then vote without considering the issues in the amendments and new clauses. Conservative Members will wake up late in the day and wonder why they did not vote against this motion because the public are upset about what the Government are doing. If Conservative Members will face up to that, they should consider whether they should vote against their guillotine motion.

We could then have proper consideration of the major issues. The poll tax rebate system is a major issue, so let us discuss it now. We should spend what time it takes to get it right; otherwise, the public will be short-changed and the people who pay the price for short-changing legislation at the moment are the poorest.

5.59 pm
Mr. Anthony Beaumont-Dark (Birmingham, Selly Oak)

Last week some of us spent much time and exercised our consciences in voting down, regretfully, a measure put forward by our Government on residential care. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security, for whom I have profound respect, has put forward a clause that some of us will be able respectably to support. Some £70 million will ensure that what I am confident the Government did not want to happen will not happen. If they had listened to us before, much embarrassment could have been saved over the community charge benefits. I say with no sadness and with great pride that the principle of this measure has a tremendous amount to recommend it. However, as a practice it has almost nothing to recommend it. I voted against it from the start. I have served on Committees examining Bills and over a period of three years nowhere can my name be found supporting the community charge.

Mr. Salmond

Did the hon. Gentleman's votes against the poll tax legislation also apply to the Scottish legislation or did he vote to impose it on the Scottish people even though he finds it so distressing for his own constituents?

Mr. Beaumont-Dark

I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman has mentioned that. He was not here at the time, but some of his Scottish colleagues will remember that I came here late at night to speak against the legislation being imposed on Scotland. Some hon. Members who are now in the Chamber will remember that.

It is sad that this is the last time that we shall have a chance to debate this issue. It is even more distressing that, in spite of all the so-called changes that have been made, the Government have not yet grappled with the simple fact that the principle of everybody paying something towards local government services is entirely sound and proper. Local government services, even more than central Government services, affect nearly everybody in the country.

I repeat the question that I asked some three years ago when we debated the matter: I save money but who pays for my savings? I shall save some £1,200 a year on the community charge or poll tax—it is much better to call it that—but people who live not half a mile from me in a one-bedroomed flat will pay £480 more than I pay. I live quite well, although modestly. I will be £1,200 better off and the people in that flat will be £480 worse off. There is neither logic nor justice in that, for one simple reason. Throughout our history all taxation has been based upon the ability to pay. Many of us argued in the long hours of the night and have argued within our party and in the country that ability to pay has to be the bedrock of any sensible or just tax. Many of us have said to our Government colleagues again and again, "Why not bring justice in this year? Why does it have to be next year?"

It is nonsense to talk about a safety net. What safety net is it, for God's sake, when some people have to pay for other people's so-called safety? What happens next year? Of course local government has to be paid for. The Opposition should not take too much heart from the discomfort that my party finds itself in, because nothing is for nothing. Somebody has to pay for local services. It is no good putting forward some grandiose scheme and saying that matters will be put right because Opposition Members and Conservative Members must be honest and say that local government requires billions of pounds.

I spent more than 20 years in local government and I can say with absolute conviction and honour that I warned my party and the Government that the poll tax would be a disaster. I was wrong because it has been a cataclysmic disaster and the by-election in Mid-Staffordshire showed that. There should be no pussy-footing about it: the poll tax was one of the great reasons that lost us that by-election. I warned the Government at the time that I gained from the poll tax and that I felt guilty about that. I live among people who have gained from the poll tax, but I have yet to find one person who says, "Goody, goody, I have gained." On the whole people in Britain do not say such things because they care about who pays.

At this very late stage I appeal to the Government to bear in mind that people do not think just of themselves. They ask the question that I asked some years ago when I said that I stood to gain £1,250. Of course it has narrowed and is now £1,200. I asked, "If I gain, who pays?" Of course everybody should pay something. I have always thought it hugely unjust that under the rating system 40 per cent. of the people paid and 60 per cent. of them voted for other people's charges. That system was hugely unfair, but it is nonsense to replace one unfair system with an even more unfair one.

I should be happy to debate the community charge benefit day after day and week after week until we could find a fair system. This is our last chance to debate fairness and I ask the Government not to tell people what they will do next year and the year after. They should admit that there has been a cock-up and should do something about it now. Why should people have to subsidise my poll tax? I know that the Government will say that I pay more income tax than some people, but that is because I have a higher income. It is nonsense to draw such an analogy. I stick by the principle of ability to pay and I am tired of people thinking that others should pay their tax. Everybody should pay something towards the service that he receives. Local services should matter even to people who are on social security and they should have to pay something, but it is nonsense that I, in my home, should pay exactly the same as someone in a one-bedroomed flat. That people in Scottish crofts who used to pay £60 should now pay £480 is huge nonsense. To build a just and fair society we must be able to argue, with those who receive and with those who pay, that a tax is fair. My conscience and guts tell me —Mid-Staffordshire told us all—that people will not accept an injustice however long we argue that it is fair.

The time for change has come. For God's sake, let us not defend the indefensible; let us defend the people's right to a fair system of taxation.

6.10 pm
Mr. Clifford Forsythe (Antrim, South)

Like most right hon. and hon. Members, I am very disappointed that the House is being asked to debate the merits of this important Bill under the guillotine. I was more than a little surprised to hear the Leader of the House complain about the number of new clauses and amendments tabled since the Committee stage, given that, on the Amendment Paper for debate this evening, the Government have no fewer than 15 new clauses and amendments, and that only two Opposition new clauses will get an airing by 11 pm. Perhaps other Members will now know exactly how hon. Members from Northern Ireland feel when, for instance, an education order is put through the House in a similar way—not under the pretext of the guillotine but by Order in Council.

Although I have friends on both sides of the House, I get a little tired of the yah-boo type of debate that seems to go on continually here. Referring to what the other party did when in power or what it may do when not in power probably provides good political ammunition, but such debates between the major parties can be instrumental in avoiding debate on the merits or otherwise of the subject in hand. I agree with the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood), who talked about those who were not on the Committee being represented. I represented the minor parties, and I can say that it was an excellent Committee stage. Arguments were forcefully put and some amendments were even accepted. However, other Members did not have a chance to serve on the Committee and they should have the chance to table amendments and have them debated at length. That is the weakness of the guillotine motion: it will cut off much debate on important subjects.

Even if Mr. Speaker or Mr. Deputy Speaker exercise great dexterity and care, many Back Benchers cannot speak in many of our debates. I notice that my right hon. Friend the Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux), the leader of my party, is in his place. My party has always voted against guillotine motions on the basis that they are a negation of democracy, curtailing debate on matters that involve millions of citizens, many of whom feel cut off from the many benefits which they are told are flowing from the affluent society.

For instance, a constituent has written to me: In 1980 the State Pension received by a married couple was worth 40 per cent. of full-time average earnings. By 1988 the same pension was worth only 31 per cent. full-time earnings. Yet there have been statements by Government Ministers that pensioners are increasingly better off. Why cannot we debate that?

Ms. Short

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will have seen that new clause 2 would enable us to discuss the failure to uprate pensions, but the Government have given us only one hour in which to deal with the poll tax, the uprating of pensions, the offsetting of costs of child care for people working or on supplementary benefit, the disqualification of people who have been unemployed for 26 weeks rather than six weeks and the issue of young, pregnant, homeless girls. That is what the guillotine is about.

Mr. Forsythe

That fully illustrates the dangers of the guillotine motion. Why should we not spend time on debate? It is what we are paid for. We are sent to the House to debate these matters on behalf of our constituents.

Mr. Wilson

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that he and his Northern Ireland colleagues are placed in an invidious position because of the activities of the Conservatives in Northern Ireland? It appears to be their declared intention to offer the people of Northern Ireland the poll tax, so the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues face the prospect of all the rubbish that has been forced through for the rest of Britain, in the form of the poll tax, being inflicted subsequently on them without warning and without the opportunity for debate, either under primary poll tax legislation or under the legislation pushed through the House tonight.

Mr. Forsythe

The hon. Gentleman puts the case well. I should be interested to see what would happen if the Conservatives put the idea to the people of Northern Ireland. The people in the street gave their answers in a recent television programme, and I assure the hon. Gentleman that none of them supported the poll tax, and very few will support the Conservatives.

Without the guillotine we might have made a case about the community care grants and the social fund, and, in particular, about grants underspend. Underspend in Antrim last year was 44 per cent.; in Coleraine it was 54 per cent. We could have debated that, had it not been for the motion.

Hon. Members representing constituencies in Northern Ireland are exhorted by hon. Members on both sides of the House to talk—to talk and to continue talking. They say that we will reach a solution by talking. Yet, on this occasion, this honourable House, in the country that is the mother of Parliaments, is doing the opposite: i t is curtailing debate.

Finally, I am sure that we all remember what the guillotine did: it cut off the heads of people in France. There is a great danger that if we continue using guillotine motions we shall cut off the head of democracy. As we all know, without a head the body dies, and this honourable House should remember that.

6.19 pm
Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde)

Thank you for calling me to speak in this important debate, Mr. Speaker. I followed the logic of the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Forsythe) and I was led to wonder whether he was advocating that at the beginning of each Session legislation which he and his hon. Friends felt was so important and interesting compared with anything else should have almost limitless parliamentary time. Time is a finite commodity and we shall always have to have a mechanism for allocating it to ensure proper and fair debate of the huge range of subjects that the House must consider. The hon. Gentleman's line of argument did not reflect the fact that not long ago he and his hon. Friends benefited from time available to the House to discuss Northern Ireland orders at considerable length, and rightly so because matters about the Province are as important as those about any other area.

Mr. Clifford Forsythe

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Jack

I shall give way when I have developed my point a little further.

The hon. Gentleman would not have the luxury of that amount of time if the Government did not arrange their affairs to ensure adequate time to discuss the many items before us.

If time is abused—there was newspaper evidence to suggest that the Opposition intended to use tactics, including moving amendments and proposing ideas, which would take up a disproportionate amount of time—the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues will suffer next time Northern Ireland business is to be debated because there will be insufficient time.

Mr. Forsythe

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is aware that, even if we had talked all night about the Orders in Council, we could not have changed one word, comma or full stop. Unfortunately, he is wide off the mark.

Mr. Jack

I must disagree with the hon. Gentleman. My point was not about the nature of the orders, but that time for their discussion was not truncated. That luxury, if I may describe it in that way, can be afforded to different sections of the House only if we all respect the fact that time is finite. Whenever the House abuses the privilege of time, we must ration the available time.

Mr. Roy Beggs (Antrim, East)

Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that Northern Ireland Members do not have a right to debate in the House matters that directly affect Northern Ireland? Does he agree that if the business were properly arranged, legislation would apply to the whole of the United Kingdom and there would be no need to set aside time specifically for Northern Ireland matters?

Mr. Jack

I take entirely the hon. Gentleman's most reasonable point. Each of us who represents a different section of the United Kingdom wants time to debate our special needs. I should dearly love to have a debate about the problems of Lancashire and Fylde. That would be illuminating. It might well be that the way in which we debate Northern Ireland legislation could do with being sorted out, but that is for his hon. Friends to suggest.

My point is simply that if we have a limited amount of time, we must ration it. The guillotine motion was introduced because of strong evidence that there was to be an abuse of the time available for the discussion of the Social Security Bill. Newspaper reports suggested that the Opposition would table many amendments in an attempt to gain concessions from the Government. Sadly, when that happens we must allocate our time.

The hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Battle) made an impassioned plea against the motion on the ground that the Bill was a piecemeal approach to social security legislation. He knows a great deal about social security and housing and I respect his views and contributions to our debates, but he is a member of the "Ah Whoopee" tendency. In other words, we have a Bill dealing with pensions, technical social security matters and insulating grants—all important matters—and the "Ah Whoopee" tendency says, "Ah, here is an opportunity. We can put into the Bill all our pet theories and ideas on social security. Here is a vehicle for them." Instead of having the courage to put forward a comprehensive view of the Opposition's approach to social security, properly costed and argued out, the Opposition themselves adopt that piecemeal approach and seek to amend the Bill. They are guilty of their criticism of the Government.

Mr. Cryer

The hon. Gentleman has accused the Opposition of abusing the House because we have tabled some amendments. Does he feel that the Government are abusing the House more because they have tabled more amendments?

Mr. Jack

No. I was about to come to that point and I am glad that the hon. Gentleman raised it. The essence of the House of Commons lies in our flexible system of legislation, from which we benefit. In the Bill we have an opportunity to react quickly to the court judgment on the social fund and the Government have seized it. Rather than take additional parliamentary time to introduce a special Bill—which would reduce time to discuss Northern Ireland matters, for example—the Government have used this Bill as a vehicle to respond to the court judgment. They are to be congratulated on that.

I hope that the House will pass the timetable motion. I shall be interested to hear what the Government have to say about the operation of the social fund. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister will address the problems put to me when I last visited my local social security office and discussed the operation of the social fund. I hope that he will tell us about the management changes in the local administration of the fund. There is considerable concern at local level about monitoring. If accountability at local level is to mean anything, social security managers will need powers under the social fund to run their budgets as they are requested. They must not be leaned on too much by regional or national officials. It is right that we should explore those matters when we debate the amendments on the social fund.

Mr. Battle

The hon. Gentleman accused me of spending the Committee's time on this, which I did, but he may like to read the Committee reports before he makes his ill-informed comments. Because of the guillotine motion, it is hardly likely that many of us who would like to debate the social fund will have the opportunity to do so. Will he sign a letter with me to his right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House, asking for a half-day debate on the social fund so that we all have time to put our constituency points? Will he accept that offer?

Mr. Jack

There is a far more effective way than signing letters. On Thursday at business questions the hon. Gentleman may wish to make his own point in his own particularly effective way.

I support the timetable motion because it is right that we should have a chance to debate many of the amendments—for example, new clause 1, which deals with the community charge. However, I wonder whether the Opposition will be enthusiastic about those amendments when they realise what may come out during the debate. Will they be pleased to learn that in Lancashire the community charge could be £60 less than it is? Will they be pleased to learn that the reason is that the county council is topping up its coffers, refunding its overspending from last year and not making money available to local authority rest homes for elderly people? Yet those are Opposition concerns. Will they be so pleased to learn that at the county council budget meeting the Labour group imposed a guillotine on discussion when good Conservative ideas were yet to be heard? Those truths could come out in such a debate.

Mr. Nicholas Bennett

Is my hon. Friend aware that, on 20 July 1976, in supporting a guillotine, the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Grocott) said: Let us accept that the democratic will in this country, and the instrument of it, is the ability to command a majority of votes in a House of Commons debate. That is what we shall do at the end of this debate, and we shall then see an end to the cant and humbug that we have heard from the Opposition"?—[Official Report, 20 July 1976; Vol. 915, c. 1656-7.] Why does the hon. Gentleman oppose guillotines now when he was in favour of them in government?

Mr. Jack

My hon. Friend's assiduous research overwhelms me, but he makes his point in a uniquely effective way.

New clause 26 is about residential care. I am delighted that we shall debate it because that will give us a chance to explore some of the hidden recesses of the income support regulations. I hope that the Government will make a positive announcement to deal with the points that come up in debate.

I should like my Front-Bench colleagues to address a problem that causes difficulty for some of my constituents living in residential and nursing homes. They would like my right hon. and hon. Friends to consider the income support regulations that deal with the way in which properties are handled. Two elderly people may have been living together as friends. One may go into a nursing or rest home and apply for income support but find that he or she is not able to get that help—even at its more generous levels—because the couple are deemed to have capital through the joint ownership of a house. It is impractical for those elderly people to sell half a house. My right hon. and hon. Friends may like to reflect on that important point and allude to the opportunity to discuss it in another place. That issue is important and has been flushed out into the open by the discussion on residential and nursing homes.

There is much important business in the Bill to discuss and the sooner we do so, the better.

6.31 pm
Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan)

The speech by the hon. Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack) would have benefited if he had been in the Chamber more than five minutes before rising to speak. If he is so anxious about Members from various parts of the United Kingdom being able to represent their constituents, perhaps he and his colleagues will stop disrupting Scottish Question Time every month and give Scottish Members a chance to question Ministers.

Mr. Jack

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Salmond

I shall not give way. The hon. Gentleman has taken too much time already.

I suppose that, after the speech of the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow), we should welcome another rebel to the Tory anti-poll tax standard. We must be charitable on these occasions, but we remember the hon. Gentleman's enthusiastic support for the poll tax. We in Scotland remember that, unlike the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Beaumont-Dark), the hon. Gentleman enthusiastically imposed the poll tax on the Scottish people—the very tax that he now finds so unamenable when it is imposed on his own constituents.

The Leader of the House referred once again to deals that were supposedly done between the usual channels. We in the minority parties are irritated when we hear that guillotine motions are introduced because of some breakdown in the usual channels, of which we are not a part, like the majority of Members. That is no reason for restricting the ability of hon. Members to debate.

Mr. Grocott

For the record, I should like to make it clear that there has been no deal whatsoever on this guillotine motion.

Mr. Salmond

I fully accept the hon. Gentleman's word. I was referring to what the Leader of the House implied in his opening speech.

I was wondering whether to concentrate on the brass neck or the arrogance of the Leader of the House in proposing the timetable motion—his brass neck in complaining about the number of Opposition amendments, when the Government themselves have tabled no fewer than 70 new clauses and amendments, or the arrogance which makes him think that the tabling of amendments is a sign of improper opposition. It is not up to the Leader of the House to decide which amendments are proper and which are improper. If an amendment is in order, it can be put on the amendment paper; if it is selected for debate, it can be debated; and if the House so decides, it can pass the amendment. It is not the role of the Leader of the House to decide that, because a number of amendments have inconvenienced his business timetable, that is a justification for imposing a guillotine.

I should like to consider specifically the limitation of the debate on new clause 1 and the other new clauses and amendments that will be debated between 11 pm and 12 midnight. One hour is by no means adequate to debate even new clause 1, never mind the other important amendments. The increase in capital limits in the Budget has raised substantial expectations among old-age pensioners who believe that they now will be entitled to a poll tax rebate.

It would have been extremely helpful for hon. Members to have a prolonged debate on those issues. It would then be realised that, because the taper and the income assumed have not been changed, the income and interest assumed will bite into the rebate level well before they get anywhere near £16,000 of savings. It will be a great disappointment to many old people to learn that, even on tiny incomes and with modest capital, they will qualify for the tiniest of rebates, if any at all.

Last Friday, I appeared on television with the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland. I saw his expression of surprise when I detailed how some of his own constituents would qualify for the tiniest of rebates because they had £12,500 in capital. All Tory Members would have benefited from a prolonged debate on this subject so that they could realise how limited that concession is.

Several times during the past week we have been denied the opportunity to hear the Secretary of State for Scotland fully explain to the House last week's remarkable events —remarkable in the sense that he was exposed as marginal to Cabinet decision making; as so dim-witted that last Tuesday he did not even refer in Cabinet to the position in Scotland; as so insensitive that he described the immediate outcry as "bogus"; and as so craven that within 48 hours he had done a political somersault to save his political skin. The right hon. and learned Gentleman refused to make a statement. He would not even personally answer our questions during Scottish Question Time this afternoon. The timetable motion makes it unlikely that he will contribute to the debate this evening.

The timetable motion is not a convenience for the House of Commons. It is a convenience for the Government, so that they can get through some more sloppy legislation as part of the shoddy programme of this shabby Administration.

6.36 pm
Mr. Michael Meacher (Oldham, West)

Every hon. Member knows that there have been occasions when protests about the guillotine have been tinged with at least a margin of synthetic ire, but no one could possibly say that that applied here. By any standards, the Government's move to impose a panic guillotine is an abuse.

That is the view not just of many of my colleagues who have argued so cogently against the guillotine, including my right hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) in his eloquent and witty speech. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) for his moving, brave and, as we always expect, principled argument against the practice of guillotines in general. I am sure that the House listened also to the powerful pleas of other Conservative Members.

They are not here to hear me say this, but it is not often that I congratulate the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow), who is not often a rebel in our cause, and the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Beaumont-Dark). It is an outrage that matters as important and contentious as the poll tax and residential and nursing home charges should be allocated no more than a handful of minutes for discussion.

We have three main objections to the guillotine. First, it is being imposed before the House has even embarked on the Report stage. By definition, therefore, there can be no evidence of filibustering or time-wasting by the Opposition, even to the slightest degree, in Committee or at this stage. It is a totally unprovoked curb on free speech.

Secondly, it is the sheerest hypocrisy for the Government to impose a guillotine when they are responsible for importing five new, highly contentious issues into the Report stage, all of which are extraneous to the content of the Bill but which, by convention, must be debated first as Government new clauses.

The gap between income support and residential nursing home charges features in the Bill only because the Secretary of State for Social Security and the Secretary of State for Health adopted such an offensively insensitive posture over the National Health Service and Community Care Bill that it provoked a rebellion on their own Benches, which caused them, despite their 100 majority, to lose the vote. That is the only reason why we have returned to the issue tonight.

The social fund features in the Bill only because the Government acted illegally in their advice to local social security officers, which caused them to be overruled in the High Court. Child maintenance features in the Bill only because the Prime Minister, belatedly and following an Opposition initiative which I launched three weeks before her—[Interruption.] That is a matter of fact which Conservative Members can check. She decided that the Government had at least to be seen to be doing something. The Department of Social Security was caught on the hop. Nothing had been drafted or, one suspects, had even been thought about at that point. Hence, nothing appeared in the Bill about that on Second Reading. It has taken until now to produce what is merely a holding clause on that matter.

The retrospective effect of section 165A of the principal Act features in the Bill only because of the Government's incompetence in believing that they had dealt with the matter in the 1985 Act, when it is clear now that they had not. The limited price indexing of pensions in the payment under occupational pension schemes features in the Bill only because the Government miscalulated the matter on Second Reading. They have now been forced to rethink their position in the light of the indefensibly feeble posture that they adopted on Second Reading.

On every one of those issues, the Government alone are responsible, having tabled five new clauses at the last moment, four of them, almost unprecedentedly, in the last 24 hours. For the Government now to impose the guillotine is simply to pre-empt the lion's share of debating time for their new material, while telescoping into what I can only describe as relative insignificance the time available for discussion of the issues in the Bill.

The third major reason why we object to the guillotine —my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Grocott) dealt strongly with this—is that it is designed to prevent debate on the whole range of issues on which we have tabled new clauses. The Government have a disreputable record on social security and our new clauses focused on each main element of that record. I refer to the break in the pension uprating link with earnings; the refusal to assist lone parents at work with child minding expenses; the draconian extension of unemployment from six to 26 weeks; the refusal to give compensation to radiation-exposed ex-service men; the iniquitous "actively seeking work" criterion; and the freezing of child benefit for the last three years.

We appreciate the Government's embarrassment about, and anxiety to avoid debate on, those matters. But to use the procedural device of the guillotine to restrict, if not eliminate, debate on them is, frankly, contemptible.

It is impossible, if the guillotine is accepted tonight, for there to be any debate on six of the first seven Opposition new clauses. In addition, it will leave next week a maximum of six and a half hours for debate on 13 remaining Opposition new clauses, no fewer than 37 new amendments to the Bill just tabled by the Government, 18 amendments tabled by the Opposition and the Third Reading. To suggest that all that can be completed, or even reasonably broached, in six and a half hours is farcical. If there is any decency and respectability to be preserved in the principle of proper debate in the House, hon. Members will reject the guillotine.

6.44 pm
The Minister for Social Security (Mr. Nicholas Scott)

Before dealing with the meat of the motion, I wish—I hope that I shall not embarrass him in doing so—to add my congratulations to those of the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) to my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) on a speech of considerable passion and vigour. I know his consistency in this matter and make no complaint about the assault that he launched on us for tabling the guillotine.

I know, too, my hon. Friend's feeling about the weight of legislation that is put on the House and our need to get it through. As a Minister, I have been guaranteed a Bill on social security in every Session of Parliament, so far at least, and there are evenings when I have some sympathy with my hon. Friend when he talks about that weight of legislation. The House as a whole—perhaps the main responsibility rests on the Government—should be concerned about that weight of legislation, about the way in which it is handled and about some of the constraints on us.

In my 24 years in the House, I have listened to innumerable debates on timetable motions. One has an awful sense of seeing the whole thing through again from one side of the House or the other and listening to the same speeches being recycled. All Governments have had recourse to this weapon, with the possible exception of the 1945–50 Government. But I wonder how many pages of legislation were passed in that Parliament compared with the weight of legislation that we have today.

The hon. Members for The Wrekin (Mr. Grocott) and for Oldham, West—although they gave different figures about the tabling of Government new clauses—were mistaken. It is not true to say, as the hon. Member for The Wrekin said, that one new clause was tabled early on Monday, two early on Tuesday and another on Tuesday afternoon. The first new clause was tabled last Friday, the bulk were tabled on Monday and only one, on residential care, was tabled on Tuesday. That mirrors well the Opposition's performance in tabling new clauses and amendments right up to the last minute, so I see no reason to apologise for the timetable.

None of the issues contained in our new clauses could conceivably have been included in the Bill. They were all matters that we were still considering from a policy point of view. We were taking legal advice, were concerned with tidying-up procedures or, in the case of occupational pensions, were still in consultation with the industry about the detail. I believe that it was right to go ahead with the publication of the Bill as it was and to produce the clauses and amendments once we had carried out the legal and other consultations that we were having.

The timetable motion presents the House with three definite advantages. First, as it will be acknowledged, there were discussions between the usual channels about the time needed to take the Bill through the House. There was to be one and a half days, in round terms, to be agreed between the usual channels. We shall now have more time available as a result of the timetable motion than we would have had if we had interpreted that allocation of one and a half days in the way that it is normally understood in the House.

Nobody suggested, until the hon. Member for Oldham, West was rash enough first to table his new clauses and then to issue his press release, that the House would anticipate a sitting of 23 hours on this sitting day.

Mr. Meacher

indicated dissent.

Mr. Scott

The hon. Gentleman was quoted in the press. No doubt he will take the appropriate opportunity to complain to those who put that out in his name.

Mr. Meacher

I shall say only that I never said any such thing. As is well known, one does not necessarily believe what one reads in the press. I said that we had an opportunity for open-ended debate. My hon. Friends and I had no intention to filibuster. But we insist, in view of the Government's record, which has been appalling over the past 10 years, that there should be adequate time, and an open-ended debate on the first day would give far more time than the Government are allotting under the guillotine.

Mr. Scott

It is rather strange that both the Daily Mirror and the Morning Star carried such similar coverage of the hon. Gentleman's intentions.

We shall have more time than we would have had, had there been a normal interpretation of the understanding to which I referred. Most of the time will be at the disposal of the Opposition. I think that we shall be able to get through the Government's new clauses very rapidly.

The second point is the overwhelming one that our discussions will be conducted at a civilised hour. The hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) said that we are not at our best in the wee small hours of the morning. We shall be able to discuss these matters in what, in a sense, is prime time, and I think that the House will do better in scrutinising what the Government have put forward. Indeed, we intend to subject the Opposition's new clauses and amendments to scrutiny.

Thirdly, we shall be able to organise our time in an orderly and predictable way, with as much flexibility as is possible within the broad terms of the Opposition's right to exercise their judgment on these matters.

Ms. Short

In effect, the right hon. Gentleman is saying that we may not take as much time as we need to discuss the Government's social security changes to which we object. The Government are telling us when we must finish and go to bed. They are simply unwilling to be inconvenienced by allowing us to use the platform of this House to put before the nation what we think is wrong with their social security policy.

Mr. Scott

I do not want to embarrass the hon. Lady, but I have to say that she knows that, week by week, in Committee, we had considerable discussions on whether we should sit not only in the mornings but in the afternoons and even, if necessary, in the evenings. [Interruption.] Precisely. I am about to come to that point.

It seems to me that Opposition Members are using a new tactic-not to say a great deal in Committee but to seek to exploit the time of the House on Report in a way that has not been the tradition. To show the tremendous change of attitude that is reflected in the Opposition's behaviour in this case, I shall come later to what has happened in the case of previous social security legislation.

Ms. Short

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Scott


Ms. Short


Mr. Scott

I do not have to give way.

Ms. Short


Mr. Scott

Very well, if the hon. Lady is upset.

Ms. Short

The right hon. Gentleman knows that the Opposition put forward a timetable for the Committee and that the Government adhered to it. We did not play games or filibuster, but did the Committee business seriously. Indeed, as a result of our action, the Government made some changes. We take a different view about what properly comes to the Floor of the House of Commons and about our ability to make a case before the nation. In the Bill there are broader issues of social security policy —matters that are quite in order—that we feel should be brought to the Floor of the House and put to the nation. We make no apology for the entirely proper strategy that we have adopted, both in Committee and in the House.

Mr. Scott

I have little time to respond to the hon. Lady's point, so I shall say simply that I disagree with her.

As ever, I listened with great respect to the speech of the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot). We all know his record on this front. He complained about the absence of my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House. Acting as I did in Committee, I shall make sure that I am a conduit for messages to my right hon. and learned Friend. I shall see that the points that have been made today are brought to his attention. However, I have a slight suspicion that the anxiety of the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent to take part in these debates is rather like a criminal's return to the scene of his crime —recorded not so much in the pages of the Police Gazette as in the "Guinness Book of Records", because of the fame that he enjoys for that particular day when he was Leader of the House.

In the last couple of minutes, I want to deal with the point on which the right hon. Gentleman asked me to reflect. I believe that Governments should be very sparing in their use of timetable motions. Certainly, I agreed to the introduction of this motion with great regret. The House has filled up slightly, but during this afternoon's debate there was hardly any sign of great passion among Opposition Members. I tried to average out the numbers present at various stages during the debate, and I think that the average came to 13. That figure may be of particular interest to the two Ulster Unionist Members from County Antrim constituencies who are in the Chamber, because of the history of their part of the United Kingdom, but the number present does not demonstrate any great passion on the part of the Labour party to oppose the motion. Indeed, it may very well be that a considerable number of Labour Members were relieved at our decision to introduce a timetable motion.

Once more, I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke (Mr. Bennett) for his research. The hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) waxed eloquent in his opposition to the timetable motion. These are the hon. Gentleman's words on an earlier occasion: The principle of a timetable motion is highly commendable as a general rule. It is not cutting down debate; it is making it more meaningful, cutting out aeons of waffle that fill Hansard, page after page after page. Many speeches which take 45 minutes could be cut to 10 or 15 minutes and still contain the germ of what was intended."—[Official Report, 20 July 1976; Vol. 915, c. 1729.]

That is what I am offering the House tonight.

Amendment negatived.

Main Question put:—

The House divided: Ayes 321, Noes 204.

Division No. 143] [6.55 pm
Adley, Robert Conway, Derek
Aitken, Jonathan Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest)
Alexander, Richard Coombs, Simon (Swindon)
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Cope, Rt Hon John
Allason, Rupert Couchman, James
Amery, Rt Hon Julian Cran, James
Amess, David Critchley, Julian
Amos, Alan Currie, Mrs Edwina
Arbuthnot, James Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g)
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Davis, David (Boothferry)
Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove) Day, Stephen
Ashby, David Devlin, Tim
Aspinwall, Jack Dorrell, Stephen
Atkins, Robert Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James
Atkinson, David Dover, Den
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley) Dunn, Bob
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N) Dykes, Hugh
Baldry, Tony Eggar, Tim
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Emery, Sir Peter
Batiste, Spencer Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd)
Bellingham, Henry Evennett, David
Bendall, Vivian Fairbairn, Sir Nicholas
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke) Fallon, Michael
Benyon, W. Favell, Tony
Bevan, David Gilroy Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)
Biffen, Rt Hon John Fishburn, John Dudley
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Fookes, Dame Janet
Boscawen, Hon Robert Forman, Nigel
Boswell, Tim Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Bottomley, Mrs Virginia Forth, Eric
Bowden, A (Brighton K'pto'n) Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich) Franks, Cecil
Bowis, John Freeman, Roger
Boyson, Rt Hon Dr Sir Rhodes French, Douglas
Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard Fry, Peter
Brandon-Bravo, Martin Gale, Roger
Brazier, Julian Gardiner, George
Bright, Graham Garel-Jones, Tristan
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Gill, Christopher
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's) Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian
Bruce, Ian (Dorset South) Glyn, Dr Sir Alan
Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon Alick Goodhart, Sir Philip
Budgen, Nicholas Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles
Burns, Simon Gorman, Mrs Teresa
Burt, Alistair Gorst, John
Butcher, John Gow, Ian
Butler, Chris Grant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW)
Butterfill, John Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)
Carlisle, John, (Luton N) Greenway, John (Ryedale)
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Gregory, Conal
Carrington, Matthew Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)
Cash, William Grist, Ian
Chalker, Rt Hon Mrs Lynda Ground, Patrick
Channon, Rt Hon Paul Grylls, Michael
Chapman, Sydney Hague, William
Chope, Christopher Hamilton, Hon Archie (Epsom)
Clark, Hon Alan (Plym'th S'n) Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford) Hampson, Dr Keith
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S) Hanley, Jeremy
Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe) Hannam, John
Colvin, Michael Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr')
Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn) Mills, Iain
Harris, David Miscampbell, Norman
Haselhurst, Alan Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Hawkins, Christopher Mitchell, Sir David
Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney Moate, Roger
Hayward, Robert Montgomery, Sir Fergus
Heathcoat-Amory, David Moore, Rt Hon John
Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael Morris, M (N'hampton S)
Hicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE) Morrison, Sir Charles
Hicks, Robert (Cornwall SE) Morrison, Rt Hon P (Chester)
Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L. Moss, Malcolm
Hind, Kenneth Moynihan, Hon Colin
Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm) Mudd, David
Holt, Richard Neale, Gerrard
Hordern, Sir Peter Needham, Richard
Howard, Rt Hon Michael Nelson, Anthony
Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A) Neubert, Michael
Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd) Newton, Rt Hon Tony
Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Nicholls, Patrick
Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford) Nicholson, David (Taunton)
Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk) Nicholson, Emma (Devon West)
Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W) Norris, Steve
Hunt, David (Wirral W) Onslow, Rt Hon Cranley
Hunter, Andrew Oppenheim, Phillip
Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas Page, Richard
Irvine, Michael Parkinson, Rt Hon Cecil
Jack, Michael Patnick, Irvine
Jackson, Robert Patten, Rt Hon Chris (Bath)
Janman, Tim Patten, Rt Hon John
Jessel, Toby Pawsey, James
Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N) Porter, Barry (Wirral S)
Jones, Robert B (Herts W) Porter, David (Waveney)
Jopling, Rt Hon Michael Portillo, Michael
Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine Powell, William (Corby)
Key, Robert Price, Sir David
King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield) Raffan, Keith
King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater) Raison, Rt Hon Timothy
Kirkhope, Timothy Redwood, John
Knapman, Roger Renton, Rt Hon Tim
Knight, Greg (Derby North) Riddick, Graham
Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston) Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas
Knowles, Michael Rifkind, Rt Hon Malcolm
Lamont, Rt Hon Norman Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)
Lang, Ian Roe, Mrs Marion
Latham, Michael Rossi, Sir Hugh
Lawrence, Ivan Rost, Peter
Lawson, Rt Hon Nigel Rowe, Andrew
Lee, John (Pendle) Rumbold, Mrs Angela
Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh) Ryder, Richard
Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark Sackville, Hon Tom
Lightbown, David Sayeed, Jonathan
Lilley, Peter Scott, Rt Hon Nicholas
Lloyd, Sir Ian (Havant) Shaw, David (Dover)
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham) Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)
Lord, Michael Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
Luce, Rt Hon Richard Shelton, Sir William
McCrindle, Robert Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)
Macfarlane, Sir Neil Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
MacGregor, Rt Hon John Shersby, Michael
MacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire) Sims, Roger
Maclean, David Skeet, Sir Trevor
McLoughlin, Patrick Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
McNair-Wilson, Sir Michael Soames, Hon Nicholas
McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick Speed, Keith
Madel, David Spicer, Sir Jim (Dorset W)
Major, Rt Hon John Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Malins, Humfrey Squire, Robin
Mans, Keith Stanbrook, Ivor
Maples, John Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Marland, Paul Steen, Anthony
Marshall, John (Hendon S) Stern, Michael
Marshall, Michael (Arundel) Stevens, Lewis
Mates, Michael Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)
Maude, Hon Francis Stewart, Andy (Sherwood)
Mawhinney, Dr Brian Stewart, Rt Hon Ian (Herts N)
Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick Stokes, Sir John
Mellor, David Stradling Thomas, Sir John
Meyer, Sir Anthony Sumberg, David
Miller, Sir Hal Summerson, Hugo
Tapsell, Sir Peter Ward, John
Taylor, Ian (Esher) Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Taylor, John M (Solihull) Warren, Kenneth
Taylor, Teddy (S'end E) Watts, John
Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman Wells, Bowen
Thompson, D. (Calder Valley) Wheeler, Sir John
Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N) Whitney, Ray
Thorne, Neil Widdecombe, Ann
Thurnham, Peter Wiggin, Jerry
Townend, John (Bridlington) Wilkinson, John
Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath) Winterton, Mrs Ann
Tracey, Richard Winterton, Nicholas
Tredinnick, David Wolfson, Mark
Trippier, David Wood, Timothy
Trotter, Neville Woodcock, Dr. Mike
Twinn, Dr Ian Yeo, Tim
Vaughan, Sir Gerard Young, Sir George (Acton)
Viggers, Peter
Waddington, Rt Hon David Tellers for the Ayes:
Wakeham, Rt Hon John Mr. Alastair Goodlad and
Walden, George Mr. Tony Durant.
Waller, Gary
Abbott, Ms Diane Dewar, Donald
Adams, Allen (Paisley N) Dixon, Don
Allen, Graham Dobson, Frank
Alton, David Douglas, Dick
Anderson, Donald Duffy, A. E. P.
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Dunwoody, Hon Mrs Gwyneth
Armstrong, Hilary Eadie, Alexander
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy Evans, John (St Helens N)
Ashley, Rt Hon Jack Ewing, Mrs Margaret (Moray)
Ashton, Joe Fatchett, Derek
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Faulds, Andrew
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE) Fearn, Ronald
Barnes, Mrs Rosie (Greenwich) Field, Frank (Birkenhead)
Barron, Kevin Fisher, Mark
Battle, John Flannery, Martin
Beckett, Margaret Flynn, Paul
Beggs, Roy Foot, Rt Hon Michael
Beith, A. J. Forsythe, Clifford (Antrim S)
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Foster, Derek
Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish) Fraser, John
Bermingham, Gerald Fyfe, Maria
Blair, Tony Galloway, George
Boyes, Roland Garrett, John (Norwich South)
Bray, Dr Jeremy George, Bruce
Brown, Gordon (D'mline E) Godman, Dr Norman A.
Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E) Golding, Mrs Llin
Brown, Ron (Edinburgh Leith) Gordon, Mildred
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Gould, Bryan
Buckley, George J. Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Caborn, Richard Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Callaghan, Jim Grocott, Bruce
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) Harman, Ms Harriet
Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley) Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy
Campbell-Savours, D. N. Haynes, Frank
Carlile, Alex (Mont'g) Heal, Mrs Sylvia
Cartwright, John Healey, Rt Hon Denis
Clark, Dr David (S Shields) Henderson, Doug
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W) Hoey, Ms kate (Vauxhall)
Clay, Bob Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)
Clelland, David Home Robertson, John
Clwyd, Mrs Ann Hood, Jimmy
Cohen, Harry Howell, Rt Hon D. (S'heath)
Cook, Frank (Stockton N) Howells, Geraint
Cook, Robin (Livingston) Hoyle, Doug
Corbett, Robin Hughes, John (Coventry NE)
Corbyn, Jeremy Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Cousins, Jim Hughes, Roy (Newport E)
Crowther, Stan Hughes, Simon (Southwark)
Cryer, Bob Illsley, Eric
Cummings, John Janner, Greville
Cunliffe, Lawrence Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)
Dalyell, Tam Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S W)
Darling, Alistair Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli) Kennedy, Charles
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly) Kilfedder, James
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'L) Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil
Kirkwood, Archy Radice, Giles
Lamond, James Randall, Stuart
Leighton, Ron Redmond, Martin
Lestor, Joan (Eccles) Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn
Lewis, Terry Richardson, Jo
Livingstone, Ken Robertson, George
Livsey, Richard Rooker, Jeff
Lofthouse, Geoffrey Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Loyden, Eddie Salmond, Alex
McAllion, John Sedgemore, Brian
McAvoy, Thomas Sheerman, Barry
Macdonald, Calum A. Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
McKay, Allen (Barnsley West) Shore, Rt Hon Peter
McKelvey, William Short, Clare
Maclennan, Robert Sillars, Jim
McNamara, Kevin Skinner, Dennis
McWilliam, John Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Madden, Max Smith, Rt Hon J. (Monk'ds E)
Maginnis, Ken Smith, J. P. (Vale of Glam)
Mahon, Mrs Alice Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)
Marek, Dr John Snape, Peter
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S) Spearing, Nigel
Martin, Michael J. (Springburn) Steel, Rt Hon Sir David
Martlew, Eric Strang, Gavin
Maxton, John Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Meacher, Michael Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck)
Meale, Alan Turner, Dennis
Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley) Vaz, Keith
Michie, Mrs Ray (Arg'L & Bute) Walker, A. Cecil (Belfast N)
Molyneaux, Rt Hon James Wall, Pat
Moonie, Dr Lewis Wallace, James
Morgan, Rhodri Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Morley, Elliot Watson, Mike (Glasgow, C)
Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe) Welsh, Michael (Doncaster N)
Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon) Wigley, Dafydd
Mullin, Chris Williams, Rt Hon Alan
Murphy, Paul Williams, Alan W. (Carm'then)
Nellist, Dave Wilson, Brian
Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon Winnick, David
O'Brien, William Wise, Mrs Audrey
O'Neill, Martin Worthington, Tony
Owen, Rt Hon Dr David Wray, Jimmy
Patchett, Terry Young, David (Bolton SE)
Pendry, Tom
Powell, Ray (Ogmore) Tellers for the Noes:
Prescott, John Mr. Jimmy Dunnachie and
Primarolo, Dawn Mr. John McFall.
Quin, Ms Joyce

Question accordingly agreed to.

Resolved. That the following provisions shall apply to the remaining proceedings on the Bill:—

  1. Report and Third Reading 138 words
  2. c543
  3. Order of proceedings 20 words
  4. c544
  5. Dilatory Motions 41 words
  6. c544
  7. Extra time on allotted day 151 words
  8. c544
  9. Private business 99 words
  10. cc544-5
  11. Conclusion of proceedings 601 words
  12. c545
  13. Supplemental orders 121 words
  14. c545
  15. Saving 65 words
  16. c545
  17. Recommittal 76 words
  18. c545
  19. Interpretation 70 words