HC Deb 08 December 1976 vol 922 cc468-91

Motion made, and Question proposed, That, notwithstanding the practice of the House relating to the interval between the various stages of Bills of aids and supplies, more than one stage of the National Insurance Surcharge Bill may be proceeded with at this day's sitting.—[Mr. Tinn.]

4.17 p.m.

Mr. David Howell (Guildford)

Having dealt a moment ago with increases in employees' contributions, we should make clear on this motion that we also find the Government's handling of the increased employers' contributions under this Bill highly unsatisfactory.

As my hon. Friends made clear on Monday, we do not accept the case for this measure being rushed through. We can see no reason for having only 48 hours between Second Reading and remaining stages and we have to ask why, if the Prime Minister has not had time during the past two days to see the Archbishop of Canterbury, the House should find time to debate this Bill now.

The difficulties with which this procedure faces us are obvious. It has given us no time to consult outside and to take account of the many interests affected. It has given us very little time to draft detailed amendments to various parts of the Bill, and this in turn has created further difficulties. The Ways and Means Resolution has made the drafting of amendments which are in order very difficult, and we shall be seeking to raise this issue in Committee. The Ways and Means Resolution has effectively excluded debate on a large number of important points and has meant that we have had no time to devise alternative amendments which might be in order and not be pushed out by its terms.

This means, in effect, that for many interests—primarily the thousands of people working for charities and hundreds in the Churches—there has been no opportunity to debate these matters because of the device which the Government have sought to adopt. This is a disgraceful device. I do not fully understand it, and I do not think any hon. Members understand it. Certainly people in charities do not understand why the Government find it necessary to use this device.

What is the motive for this particular trick? Why are the Government so anxious that we should not discuss the Spastics Society, Dr. Barnardo's, or the Church of England? Such people will have to go out and raise thousands of pounds more money or, alternatively—I suspect that this is more likely to be the outcome—they will have to lay off charity workers before we are very long into the next financial year.

We do not understand the Minister's motives for suppressing discussion of the Bill. We object very strongly to the way in which it has been rushed. We do not accept at any point the validity or integrity of the arguments used by the Leader of the House, or Ministers, for cramming this whole legislation into two days. We note that thereby all awkward debate is avoided outside on the effect of these measures in adding to the Government's already successful, fast-rolling job destruction programme.

This measure will help to destroy a good many more jobs, so at least we understand why the Government wish to rush it through. The reason is clear enough. When the Leader of the House tells us that he will fight unemployment with every breath in his body, we have to say that this is a very odd way of doing so. What he will be fighting for today is for anything between 10,000 and 110,000 more unemployed, particularly in the textile industry, in construction, and in charities and Churches if they cannot raise the extra money. This is a very odd way of fighting unemployment with every breath in the right hon. Gentleman's body. We object very much to the way in which the motion is being pushed through. I shall invite my hon. Friends to divide the House against this disgraceful piece of skulduggery.

4.33 p.m.

Mr. Nicholas Ridley (Cirencester and Tewkesbury)

I think it extraordinary that practically every day now we have some vile business motion put on the Order Paper by the Lord President of the Council. He must be developing a sort of routine, spending the afternoons listening to abusive language being directed against him for what he has done, and then skulking off to devise the next motion for the next day. He must have some very clever draftsmen helping him to devise motions which will force Government business through the House and truncate opportunities for debate. He is becoming quite expert at finding ways of forcing legislation through and shortening opportunities for debate.

This is a very novel measure. It is a new form of taxation, not just the usual increase in national insurance contributions which we have had year after year, nor a change in the form of them. This is a new form of tax which is to be paid into the Exchequer for purposes other than the payment of pensions.

It is quite intolerable that a new form of taxation should be introduced on Monday, get through its remaining stages on Wednesday and, if I have anything to do with it, be buried on Thursday like Solomon Grundy. Unfortunately, there will not be an opportunity to bury the tax tomorrow, although I am sure that the Lord President could devise a business motion to enable us to do so if he wanted.

What worries me is that every Bill will in future come in with a built-in timetable and a built-in compression of the stages for debate, so with any luck we shall be able to get the Bill through in a day without a Committee stage, finish debate at 10 o'clock and send Parliament home. I know that the Lord President did very badly with his Bills in the last Session, losing the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Bill, having the Dock Work Regulation Bill emasculated, losing the Road Traffic (Seatbelts) Bill, the Public Lending Right Bill, the British Transport Docks (Felixstowe) Bill, the Greater London Council Bill, the West Midlands County Council Bill. No wonder he is a bit sensitive to the demands of Parliament to debate this obnoxious measure, because he had a lousy record. He was jolly lucky in the last re-shuffle not to lose his job.

He is the most incompetent Leader of the House we have ever had when it comes to getting Bills through, so perhaps he said "Next term I must do better." Every day we have these motions forcing through the Government's business. So long as he can cling on to a majority of one or two, by which he succeeds in carrying these motions and Bills, the procedure can apparently continue for ever.

If he wants to close the debate early in the evening by some timetable motion, he is less likely to have a by-election on his own side because he is keeping the troops in good heart with plenty of sleep and plenty of fodder to survive the long winter ahead.

So this is the strategy of the Leader of the House. Soon, if the motion is carried, he will go down the Corridor to where his advisers will be waiting, and they will say "Lord President, the business is so and so—you might be able to get it through by tea time if you put down this motion. We might be able to do without a Committee stage if we put down that motion." They will be preparing further motions to put on the Order Paper.

We have one fortunate feature in our procedure, which is that the procedural motions are taken first. I hope the Lord President is getting fed up with seeing that the type of item of business, both in Hansardand in the Press next morning, is his own aberrations of business motions that he has put down. In the end this should surely alert him to the fact that he is attracting much adverse publicity for the way in which he is handling Parliament. The right hon. Gentleman is not being thought to be a very good Leader of the House and from the debates we have day after day I am sure that my hon. Friends would agree it could not be said with the certainty with which I have heard it said of previous Leaders of the House that he shares the confidence of all quarters of the House in his fair and impartial conduct of the Government's business.

Why should this taxation measure not have had a decent interval between the Second Reading and Committee stage? There is no reason whatever why it should not spill over into the period after Christmas, or even the week before Christmas. Perhaps we might even postpone the devolution Bill. The devolution debate will take 80 days and 80 nights, or whatever it is, so moving this Bill back one day to let hon. Members consult their constituents and to consider amendments would not have done any great harm. Why should there be this unseemly rush? Why do the Government so wish to restrict the scope of discussion on the Bill by the Ways and Means Resolution?

I beg the Leader of the House to understand that he cannot go on coasting through on his past reputation as a lover of this House and a great parliamentarian. The good will he has stored up is not only eroded but is becoming a negative good will. This is something which no Leader of the House should wish to court. I shall register once more my daily protest against the procedural motions of the Leader of the House and hope that, patient though he is at sitting on the Bench, his ears will be open this time and he will draw the necessary conclusion.

4.28 p.m.

Mr. William van Straubenzee (Basingstoke)

I shall intervene quite shortly on what is a narrow, but to me a very important, point. My point is well illustrated by the state of the Order Paper at the moment, and particularly the list of amendments which have been selected for debate, which I shall not discuss now. They illustrate well the dilemma in which the Leader of the House has put so many hon. Members who are genuinely interested in this difficult matter and anxious to make a contribution to the debate.

I had reason to suppose that on Monday evening the Minister who was winding up the debate might say something which would be of interest to some of my concerns. He answered, but his reply was clearly not a sufficient answer from my point of view. I am only an ordinary Back-Bench Member, without the facilities of the Government; nor do I have the brightness of those on my own Front Bench—particularly those who are here this afternoon—and I can only table an amendment bearing on the point mentioned by the Minister when winding up.

Therefore, as you can see from the state of the Order Paper, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I find myself in a difficult position, having acted as swiftly as any ordinary Back-Bench Member could reasonably be expected to do, with a starred amendment. I quite understand that when the House goes into Committee—and again, we must not forecast in this debate—it may be impossible for a starred amendment to be considered, or ever to have been considered for selection.

This is a very difficult position for an hon. Member. At least if we had one further stage instead of all the stages today there would be some opportunity for Back-Bench Members with legitimate concern and interest to seek to highlight the matter by way of an amendment. As it is, we are totally unable to do so.

I wonder whether the Leader of the House understands the incredulity that exists outside the House on the part of a large number of those concerned with what they regard as tax, even if it not technically a tax, about our procedures when it comes to the sort of process that I have outlined. The Leader of the House will know that I have been in close consultation with some of those concerned. I know that they are very anxious not to play up certain recent episodes. However, perhaps I may say as an aside that it seems to be a quite extraordinary method of carrying on. No doubt if Mr. Jack Jones had requested an interview, it would have been granted instantly. However, I let that be.

Perfectly law-abiding citizens, people such as the Church Commissioners, for example, who are deeply interested in this matter and deeply affected by it when we come to the substance, people who have loyally supported the Government's incomes policy and who have abided by every jot and tittle of it, now find that their opportunity, through hon. Members on both sides of the House who are prepared to put forward their point of view, and that of other Churches, is inhibited and unable to be put forward because of our procedures.

I must join with my hon. Friends to protest in trenchant terms at the way in which this House is treated on legislation of this kind. I warn the Leader of the House that he stores up great trouble for himself in terms of the regard of the House by law-abiding people outside it if he continues with procedures of this nature.

4.33 p.m.

Mr. J. W. Rooker (Birmingham, Perry Barr)

From what has been said by the hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee), anyone would think that hon. Members have had only since the Second Reading to table amendments. That is not so. Amendments could have been tabled from the time of the publication of the Bill. There was a motion on the Order Paper to that effect.

Hon. Members


Mr. Rooker

Therefore, the hon. Gentleman's argument is not substantiated.

Mr. van Stranbenzee

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Rooker

No. Time is short, and I presume that hon. Members want to get on with the debate on the Bill.

It is Opposition Members who are delaying the House. The hypocrisy of the Opposition in opposing yesterday the timetable motion on the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Bill has been followed by their opposition to this motion. The motion clearly gives hon. Members all day and all night, if they wish, to debate the Bill. There is no reason for the argument put to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House about curtailing debate and bringing down a guillotine.

I am not wholly enamoured of the Bill. I may decide to abstain on one amendment. From the words of the motion, it is clear that we shall have all day and all night to debate the Bill. It is dis-honourable of Opposition Members to keep accusing the Lord President of curtailing debate, because patently that is not true.

4.35 p.m.

Mr. David Mitchell (Basingstoke)

I want to make only two very brief points. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) has stated that ever since the Bill was published it has been possible to table amendments. I assure him that I sought to table amendments before the Second Reading was completed. I was advised that I was not able so to do. The position is that the House has not been sufficiently able to table amendments.

Yesterday we had an important debate in the Chamber. There was a running three-line Whip on both sides of the House. We were not able to go to our constituencies to consult various people. Therefore, we are being asked to debate a Bill on which we have not been able to consult properly the legitimate interests in our constituencies that will he affected.

Further to that, my hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) talked about the reduced time for discussion. There is another matter of which the House ought to be aware. That is the strange form of the Money Resolution, which actually prevents us from discussing in Committee many matters which we wish to discuss. They include whether the breach of the Beveridge principle is something that the House ought to accept.

I want to add my voice of protest about the way in which the House is being treated in this matter.

4.36 p.m.

Mr. Ian Gow (Eastbourne)

The National Insurance Surcharge Bill was published on the last day of November. It received its Second Reading on Monday, and that by a majority of two votes only. The business motion before us requires that we should complete all the remaining stages of the Bill in the House today.

The first point that I wish to raise is one that we raised in the House yesterday when dealing with the Bill to nationalise the aircraft and shipbuilding industries. Yesterday there was also a motion which in effect restricted the timetable allowed to the House to debate a Bill of crucial importance. Yesterday, as today, the motion in the name of the Leader of the House was not moved by the Leader of the House. Indeed, we are invited to agree to this motion without any justification being given to the House for our abandoning what in the motion is described as the "practice of the House".

I submit to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that what is at stake here is not the practice of the House, as the motion would have us believe. What we are discussing is a rule of the House. In support of that contention, perhaps I may refer you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to the great book, "Erskine May", and to page 702, Rule 4. I underline the word "rule" because here it is stated not as a practice of the house but as a rule of the House, as follows: Not more than one stage of a bill founded upon a charging resolution can be taken on the same day. The heading to that passage is not "practice" but "Rule".

Perhaps you would move on, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to page 709, where you will find the following words: Since the rule that not more than one stage of a financial bill shall be taken on the same day applies only to bills which are brought in on a charging resolution, it applies in practice only to Consolidated Fund Bills and taxation bills. Twice in the great book we have reference made not to a practice but to a rule.

I suggest that it is erroneous for the Leader of the House to table this business motion, which refers to "practice" when it ought to refer to "rule". If it is a rule of the House, all the more reason for the Lord President to justify in an opening speech moving the motion the reason why the Government think it right to curtail discussion in this way.

I wonder why this rule exists. The rule exists so that there can be a proper interval between the Committee stage and the Third Reading. The reason why the rule provides that there shall be this interval of time is to enable Members to discuss with their constituents important issues which come before Parliament—notably those which raise taxation.

The Lord President, who is not merely the successor of Nye Bevan at Ebbw Vale but his biographer, is saying that Members shall be denied the opportunity, of which in times past he and Nye Bevan were the champions, to consult their constituents. It lies ill, not on the lips of the Lord President because we do not see or hear his lips, but in the mind and on the pen, if it was the right hon. Gentleman or his special advisers who drafted this motion, that such a motion should have the effect of preventing hon. Members from carrying out that duty of consultation with their constituents which we were always told was at the heart of Socialism.

Mr. Peter Rost (Derbyshire, South-East)

Has my hon. Friend noticed that the Leader of the House has not even had the courtesy to listen to a single word of my hon. Friend's speech? The whole time my hon. Friend has been speaking the Leader of the House has been talking with his colleagues on the Front Bench—no doubt cooking up the next motion to be put down tomorrow.

Mr. Gow

It will not have escaped the attention of my hon. Friend that the Leader of the House is sitting next to a fellow member of the Cabinet. On the right of the Lord President sit two Ministers from the Treasury. We all know that the Lord President is unable to direct his mind to the crucial subject of this motion, because he is far too busily engaged trying to patch up some semblance of unity in the Cabinet. We know why two Treasury Ministers are present.

Mr. Ridley

On the contrary, I believe that the Lord President is trying to persuade the Financial Secretary to accept a post in the new Ministry of dirty tricks.

Mr. Gow

If my hon. Friend is able to obtain the leave of the House, he will be able to develop that theme further.

I could understand if the Lord President had tabled a motion to take all the remaining stages of the Bill it the Bill were of scant importance. But the Bill is of major importance. It has new revenue consequences approaching £1,000 million. The Bill will have the greatest consequence for small businesses in particular. We believe that it will contribute directly to precisely that issue of unemployment, in fighting which the Lord President has said that he will expend and use up every breath in his body. If the Lord President is to be taken at his breath value, he ought to be passionately keen that there should be a reasonable interval between Committee and Third Reading so that those of us who are concerned about unemployment will have a chance to listen to our constituents, who are very anxious to explain to us the evil effects of the Bill.

Mr. George Cunningham (Islington, South and Finsbury)

Why do we not get started?

Mr. Gow

Because what is crucial to this House, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) said, is that we do not allow the Executive to override the rights of the House in proper debate of crucial Bills.

There are 14 amendments and one new clause on the Order Paper. It fell to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, in your capacity as Chairman of Ways and Means, to make a selection. It would be quite out of order to comment upon the selection which you have made. But we are entitled to point out that only three of the 14 amendments have been selected for debate and that the one new clause which has been tabled will not have sufficient time to be properly debated. When we are to consider a Bill of such importance as this it is wrong that our rights as Back-Benchers should be curtailed in this way.

Mr. George Cunningham

Will the hon. Gentleman address his mind to the thought that in virtually every other Parliament in the world—by which I mean free world—it is common practice to timetable Bills? They have the common sense, which we do not, to recognise that what matters is the vote, so long as a reasonable amount of time is given for discussion.

If it is acceptable in other countries as being perfectly in conformity with democratic practice, why is there something so terrible about limiting the debate—if the hon. Gentleman had not spoken—to five and a half or six and a half hours? Is the hon. Gentleman really telling us that he has not been consulting his constituents about this proposition for the past four and a half months? Whether or not one supports it, it is brutally simple, and consultations should have taken place on the basis of the Chancellor's statement in July.

Mr. Gow

The Bill was printed only on 30th November. It is just not possible to consult one's constituents on the basis of declarations of intent by the Government.

Mr. George Cunningham

Of course it is.

Mr. Gow

I do not know where the hon. Gentleman has been this last year. I clearly remember the Chancellor of the Exchequer telling the House that the year-on-year rate of inflation would be in single figures by December 1976. It is now December 1976 and the year-on-year rate of inflation is about 15 per cent.—50 per cent. above what the Chancellor predicted. Therefore, we cannot rely on the Government's forecasts—

Mr. George Cunningham

It was not a forecast.

Mr. Gow

—or statements by the Government about Bills which they are to introduce.

The Bill was printed on 30th November and received its Second Reading on Monday by only two votes. Now the Government are saying "Do not worry about the rules. The only thing that matters is that the Socialist juggernaut should continue."

These rules have been designed to protect the rights of people and their representatives in this House. If we want evidence of that, we should turn to the good book—it is a good book and I wish that the Lord President would read it—which states: Not more than one stage of a Bill founded upon a charging resolution can be taken on the same day. That rule is there to protect the rights of the people.

All this talk about the Labour Party being the party of the people now lies in decayed ribbons and in the breath of the Leader of the House. The Conservative Party is fast becoming, as it has always been, the people's party. It is Conservative Members who insist on the rights of the people. That is why we shall vote against this scandalous motion.

Mr. Cyril Smith (Rochdale) rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put, but Mr. DEPUTY SPEAKER withheld his assent and declined then to put that Question.

4.49 p.m.

Mr. Peter Hordern (Horsham and Crawley)

I hope that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will consider very seriously the excellent point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) about the motion. If it is indeed right that according to what he calls the "good book"—I think that his definition of the good book may differ somewhat from that of my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee)—it is a rule, not a practice, that we are talking about, I ask you to give your ruling on the subject to the House.

I do not see how we can properly proceed if this motion offends against a rule, not a practice, of the House. I think that it is a most important matter and that, if my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne is right, as I am sure he is, the House should seek your guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

I should like to draw the attention of the Leader of the House, whose attention has been distracted enough in the debate, to one other matter. I understand that he will need the maximum advice from the Financial Secretary and the Minister of State, Treasury, on all sorts of other matters which do not particularly pertain to this debate, but this matter is in his own province. It concerns the report produced by a Committee of the House on the Preparation of Legislation in May 1975. Both sides of the House in both Houses of Parliament accepted Recommendation No. 105, which said: Unless there is special urgency there should always be at least:

  1. (a) two weekends between the first publication of a Bill and the debate on second reading in the first House;
  2. (b) fourteen days between second reading and the start of the committee stage;
  3. (c) on all Bills of considerable length or complexity, 14 days between publication of the Bill as amended in committee and the start of the report stage."
Those recommendations were accepted in principle by both sides of the House and were debated.

What gives this matter its special urgency? The proposal was put forward by the Chancellor on 22nd July. There has been plenty of time to produce a Bill before now to carry out consultation processes which appear in this recommendation and which were accepted by the Government in principle at that time. So why has the Leader of the House brought the Bill forward so late?

Mr. Rost

Does my hon. Friend think that the Leader of the House is devious enough to want to push the Bill through all its stages before the Christmas Recess, knowing that two of the Government's own Lobby fodder are likely to be doing a bunk for Europe and that as a result of the by-elections they may lose two votes?

Mr. Hordern

Of course my hon. Friend is right. I do not know what informs the thinking of the Leader of the House on this matter, but it is certainly not unconnected, I would guess, with the visit of the representatives of the International Monetary Fund. He has been told by the Chancellor that he must get this thing through willy-nilly before the measures are announced next week. He must be able to produce them as a concrete expression of what the Government will do. This is the first tranche of the cuts, the first increase in taxation.

But we argue that this matter should have been presented to the House many weeks ago in a proper form which could have been discussed. No doubt the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) has had time to consult his constituents on that matter and I know that he feels strongly about the provisions of the Bill, but we should have had time to consider it after publication and then to produce proper amendments. No such time has been allowed.

This is not the first time that this has happened. The motion follows a similar one yesterday. What is happening to consideration of the Report of the Committee on the Preparation of Legislation? Why should distinguished right hon. and hon. Members give up their time to produce a report which is agreed on both sides of the House if it is to be treated with such total disrespect by the Leader of the House? This is a shameful episode and it is the second in two days.

I would ask you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to rule on the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne.

4.54 p.m.

Mr. Patrick Mayhew (Royal Tunbridge Wells)

It is a curious and eloquent comment on this debate so far that the Leader of the House has been supported by only one of his hon. Friends, and he took a point so bad that it succeeded in embarrasing even the Leader of the House. It was shot out of the water.

It has become almost trite to comment on the contrast between the record of the Leader of the House in his present high office and the reputation that he made as a parliamentarian before some mantle or other of office settled upon his shoulders. But although it may be trite, it is none the less essential to make that comment at every conceivable opportunity.

I was grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) for listing, example by shameful example, the instances in which the right hon. Gentleman has treated this House with contempt in recent months, by railroading measures through it without the semblance of sufficient time for consideration. Time after time I have sat here in my lowly position—if that is an apt description of so high a Bench—and watched him chattering with his coterie of friends and collaborators, shaking his head, huffing and puffing, grimacing and seeking to pass off as irrelevant non-senses the complaints, made in the interests of Parliament, that he, in the exercise of his job, is not being Leader of the House at all but Leader of only half the House.

Time and again, we have heard the excuse, "But this is in our manifesto". But where does one find in this famous manifesto, whose most detailed provisions, even those in the smallest of type, are held to be graven on the hearts of the electorate, the promise to extort £1,000 million in taxation—which is what this is—with only two days' consideration? After the Bill's publication, only two days have been allotted for the entire process in the House of Commons.

The Government, under the right hon. Gentleman's leadership—that is all he does lead, the Government and not the House—seem to have elevated the principle that ignorance of the law is no excuse, into a principle that ignorance of the law that the Government propose to make is no excuse. They say that we have known since the end of July that they proposed to raise £1,000 million in this way. But the Bill by which they set about it was not published until 30th November.

Is it any surprise that large numbers of people adversely affected by the Bill—small business men, clergymen and many others—are only now beginning to grasp what this means? We may wish that our clergymen and our archbishops were rather more worldly—I for one am glad that they are not—but is it surprising that the Archbishop of Canterbury sought to see the Prime Minister about this measure only the other day? The only surprising thing is that the Prime Minister so gracelessly refused his request.

This is yet another example of Parliament being treated with the contempt of which so many of my hon. Friends have spoken. The sad truth is that the Leader of the House has not been able to detach himself from the partisan enthusiasms which have inflamed his entire parliamentary career. One day, however, he will no longer hold that position. and the time will come when the epitaph for his tenure has to be written.

Although, I must admit, the right hon. Gentleman does not immediately put me in mind of Omar Khayyam, although I fervently hope that he will shorty be paying a visit to the wilderness, a suitable epitaph can be taken from the Rubaiyat, at any rate as translated by Edward Fitzgerald: Indeed, the idols I have loved so long Have caused my credit in the eyes of men much wrong, Have drowned my Honour in a Shallow Cup, And sold my Reputation for a Song.

4.58 p.m.

Mr. Ian Stewart (Hitchin)

Mr. Deputy Speaker, when you consider the most important point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) and his comments about the way in which consideration of the Bill has been telescoped, I hope that you will take into account and the House will remember the reason which has been given from the Treasury Bench for the necessity for a timetable in this way.

The reason was given to me on Monday evening when I asked the Minister of State, Treasury, why it was not possible, since a Bill of this kind could be steamrollered through in a week from the beginning to end, to defer consideration until the proper time had been allowed for consultations to take place with the charities, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and anyone else who might be involved. His answer was that it was necessary to get the tables printed in good time for next April.

I am sure that my hon. Friends will welcome the sympathy shown for hard-pressed businesses in the effort to have these pieces of paper in their possession well in time.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Oscar Murton)

I am very sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but the hon. Member for Horsham and Crawley (Mr. Hordern) made an inquiry of the Chair with regard to the motion. Perhaps I should have replied earlier. I was not aware that he expected an immediate reply at that time, but perhaps I should have given it. The motion is absolutely in order.

Mr. Stewart

It may therefore be all the more important for the House to realise the specious, or at least the trivial, reason which has been given for the telescoping of the various stages of the Bill.

Is it that the Japanese pocket calculators in the Treasury are not capable of doing the necessary arithmetic quickly enough? Is it that the printing presses available to the Government are so inert that they cannot run off the new tables in time for an impost to be made by Parliament? I leave hon. Members to judge for themselves whether that is a satisfactory reason for taking advantage of the House.

The breath from the body of the Leader of the House has caused us more than enough trouble by this type of motion and I hope that we shall not have any more of this parliamentary halitosis.

Mr. Hordern

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. After your ruling is it not clear that the motion seeks to overturn not a practice of the House but a rule of the House? Is that not a plain consequence of your ruling?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

That is correct.

5.1 p.m.

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Robert Sheldon)

I shall reply to some of the comments, most of which were repeats of comments made in greater detail on Monday about the time taken between the various stages of the Bill.

Mr. David Howell

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am glad that the Financial Secretary is replying to the debate, but does that mean that the Leader of the House has just pushed off? Is there any reason for his leaving the Chamber after comments have been made about his personal behaviour?

Mr. Sheldon

I offer the House my right hon. Friend's apologies. He has an important meeting which he must attend. He heard most of the debate.

Mr. Eric S. Hefter (Liverpool, Walton)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Are we to have constant attacks by the Opposition on my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House? Everybody is aware that the one person who has always listened to all the debates, as a Minister and from the Back Benches, is the Leader of the House. I have been here for 12 years and that has always been the case. Is it not scandalous that such statements can be made about my right hon. Friend purely for cheap, false propaganda.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

That is not a point of order.

Mr. Hordern

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker— —

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I ruled that the comment made by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heifer) was not a point of order.

Mr. Hordern

On a different point of order. Is it not the practice and courtesy of the House that a Minister who is here to reply to a debate normally informs the Opposition if he is not able to do so? Is not this a matter that is peculiarly for him and not for the Financial Secretary?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

That is not a point of order.

Mr. Sheldon

My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House hoped that the debate would not be so lengthy. I concur with my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heifer). The Opposition may criticise—and they are entitled to criticise particular measures brought before the House by the Leader of the House for consideration—but it is more difficult to criticise him for his lack of attendance. He has been a most assiduous attender of the House both when I have had the privilege of working with him and when I was on the Opposition Benches.

The hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell) repeated comments made during earlier debates, both on the Ways and Means Resolution on Tuesday last week and during the Second Reading debate on Monday this week. I take note of his comments. I understand the desire of hon. Members for a longer period for is-cussion of and consultation about any Bill. Unfortunately, as I indicated on both previous occasions, it was not possible to allow the length of time that one would normally wish.

The hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) criticised us for allowing so little time. He said that the Bill came out only on Thursday and was introduced on Monday. But I must remind the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) that the main outlines of the measure were known in July. As my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) said, the proposition is basically simple—that the employer's contribution should be increased by 2 per cent.

The issue was debated in August and representations have been made since then. The principle has been around for a long time, and that is as it should be. I understand that knowledge of the precise form of the tax brings about a fresh examination, and one wishes to see that. But, for reasons that I shall explain, there was a shortage of time and a need to produce the measure in the time now being made available.

Mr. Gow

If the principles behind the Bill were known to the Government in July, why was the Bill not printed until 30th November?

Mr. Sheldon

The Session did not begin until a week or two ago. The Bill had to be brought in in this Session.

The hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury put down amendments last week and that effectively disposes of the argument of the hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Mitchell), who said that there had been less time than that for tabling amendments. As a result of the procedural motion tabled by the Lord President, amendments were allowed in advance of Second Reading. Hon. Members took advantage of that, including the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury, who tabled several amendments last week.

The need for urgency arises from our desire to recognise the needs of those hard-pressed businesses which the hon. Member for Hitchin (Mr. Stewart) suggested were being ignored. I disagree with him. We need to produce the administrative arrangements in such a manner as to avoid inconvenience to employers, precisely because we do not want to increase the burden on businesses. We want to have the administrative changes and tables ready at the most suitable time for them. The most suitable arrangement was to pursue the normal programme for administrative changes as they apply to ordinary national insurance contributions. We are endeavouring to meet that timetable but it was made more difficult by the late opening of the Session. That led to a greater compression than might otherwise been the case.

My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House suggested that the Committee stage might be taken next week during the interval between various stages of the devolution debate. For one reason or another that was not convenient to the Opposition. I make no comment on that. There are many factors that need to be considered and I understand that. We have tried to be as accommodating as possible. There was the possibility of taking the debate tomorrow, which would give only an extra day. I mention those two matters only as an earnest of our attempt to be as accommodating as the shortage of time permitted.

The opportunities for debate are still considerable. The hon. Member for Eastbourne said that the selection of amendments was unduly restrictive. I do not agree, but that is not a matter

for me. It is a matter for the Chair, and I do not in any way seek to criticise the Chair. We have some useful amendments for discussion, and the sooner we get down to it the sooner shall we make progress in the interests of all concerned.


Mr. David Howell

By leave of the House Mr. Deputy Speaker, that seems to be the end of this rule-bending exercise—a very grubby business it is.

When the House goes into Committee we shall be discussing the restrictive nature of the Ways and Means Resolution and its effect in cutting out of the debate a great many interests of the many hard-working and dedicated people who have been slapped in the face by this measure. In the meantime we should perhaps stick to discussing the motion, which proposes that the rule should be overthrown—as you confirmed, Mr. Deputy Speaker—in the interests of something which is still not clear to us. We are entitled to our suspicions, and in the light of that I advise my hon. Friends to press the matter to a vote.

Question put: —

The House divided: Ayes 256, Noes 240.

Division No. 17.] AYES [5.12 p.m.
Abse, Leo Clemitson, Ivor English, Michael
Allaun, Frank Cocks, Rt Hon Michael Ennals, David
Anderson, Donald Cohen, Stanley Evans, Fred (Caerphilly)
Archer, Peter Coleman, Donald Evans, loan (Aberdare)
Armstrong, Ernest Colquhoun, Ms Maureen Ewlng, Harry (Stirling)
Ashley, Jack Conlan, Bernard Faulds, Andrew
Ashton, Joe Cook, Robin F. (Edln C) Fernyhough, Rt Hon E.
Atkins, Ronald (Preston N) Corbett, Robin Fitch, Alan (Wigan)
Atkinson, Norman Cowans, Harry Flannery, Martin
Bagier, Gordon A. T. Cox, Thomas (Tooting) Fletcher, L. R. (Ilkeston)
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich) Craigen, Jim (Maryhill) Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)
Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (Heywood) Crawshaw, Richard Foot, Rt Hon Michael
Bates, Alf Cronin, John Ford, Ben
Benn, Rt Hon Anthony Wedgwood Crowther, Stan (Rotherham) Forrester, John
Bennett, Andrew(Stockport N) Cryer, Bob Fowler, Gerald (The Wrekin)
Bidwell, Sydney Cunningham, G. (Islington S) Freeson, Reginald
Bishop, E. S. Davidson, Arthur Garrett, John (Norwich S)
Blenkinsop, Arthur Davies, Bryan (Enfield N) Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend)
Boardman, H. Davies, Denzil (Llanelli) George, Bruce
Bottomley, Rt Hon Arthur Davies, Ifor (Gower) Gilbert, Dr John
Boyden, James (Bish Auck) Davis, Clinton (Hackney C) Ginsburg, David
Bradley, Tom Deakins, Eric Golding, John
Bray, Dr Jeremy Dean, Joseph (Leeds West) Gould, Bryan
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) Dell, Rt Hon Edmund Gourlay, Harry
Buchan, Norman Dempsey, James Graham, Ted
Buchanan, Richard Doig, Peter Grant, George (Morpeth)
Butler, Mrs Joyce (Wood Green) Dormand, J. D. Grocott, Bruce
Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P) Douglas-Mann, Bruce Hardy, Peter
Campbell, Ian Duffy, A. E. P. Harper, Joseph
Canavan, Dennis Dunn, James A. Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)
Cant, R. B. Dunnett, Jack Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy
Carmichael, Neil Eadie, Alex Hatton, Frank
Carter, Ray Edge, Geoff Healey, Rt Hon Denis
Cartwright, John Edwards, Robert (Wolv SE) Heffer, Eric S.
Castle, Rt Hon Barbara Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun) Hooley, Frank
Horam, John Marquand, David Sillars, James
Hoyle, Doug (Nelson) Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole) Silverman, Julius
Huckfield, Les Marshall, Jim (Leicester S) Skinner, Dennis
Hughes, Rt Hon C. (Anglesey) Mason, Rt Hon Roy Small, William
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Maynard, Miss Joan Smith, John (N Lanarkshire)
Hughes, Roy (Newport) Meacher, Michael Snape, Peter
Irvine, Rt Hon Sir A. (Edge Hill) Mikardo, Ian Spearing, Nigel
Irving, Rt Hon S. (Dartford) Millan, Rt Hon Bruce Spriggs, Leslie
Jackson, Colin (Brighouse) Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride) Stallard, A. W.
Janner, Greville Miller, Mrs Millie (Ilford N) Stewart, Rt Hon M. (Fulham)
Jay, Rt Hon Douglas Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw) Stott, Roger
Jeger, Mrs Lena Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon) Strang, Gavin
Jenkins, Hugh (Putney) Moyle, Roland Strauss, Rt Hon G. R.
John, Brynmor Murray, Rt Hon Ronald King Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley
Johnson, James (Hull West) Newens, Stanley Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)
Johnson, Walter (Derby S) Noble, Mike Thomas, Mike (Newcastle E)
Jones, Alec (Rhondda) Oakes, Gordon Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)
Jones, Barry (East Flint) Ogden, Eric Thorne, Stan (Preston South)
Jones, Dan (Burnley) O'Halloran, Michael Tierney, Sydney
Judd, Frank Orme, Rt Hon Stanley Tinn, James
Kaufman, Gerald Ovenden, John Tomlinson, John
Kelley, Richard Padley, Walter Torney, Tom
Kilroy-Silk, Robert Palmer, Arthur Tuck, Raphael
Kinnock, Neil Park, George Urwin, T. W.
Lambie, David Parry, Robert Varley, Rt Hon Eric G.
Lamborn, Harry Pendry, Tom Walden, Brian (B'ham L'dyw'd;
Lamond, James Perry, Ernest Walker, Harold (Doncaster)
Latham, Arthur (Paddington) Phipps, Dr Colin Walker, Terry (Kingswood)
Leadbitter, Ted Prentice, Rt Hon Reg Ward, Michael
Leo, John price, C. (Lewisham W) Watkins, David
Lestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough) Price, William (Rugby) Watkinson, John
Lever, Rt Hon Harold Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn (Leeds S) Weetch, Ken
Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) Roberts, Albert (Normanton) Weitzman, David
Lipton, Marcus Roberts, Gwilym (Cannock) Wellbeloved, James
Litterick, Tom Robinson, Geoffrey White, Frank R. (Bury)
Loyden, Eddie Roderick, Caerwyn Whitlock, William
Luard, Evan Rodgers, George (Chorley) Willey, Rt Hon Frederick
Lyon, Alexander (York) Rodgers, Rt Hon William (Stockton) Williams, Alan (Swansea W)
Mabon, Dr J. Dickson Rooker, J. W. Williams, Alan Lee (Hornch'ch)
McCartney, Hugh Rose, Paul B. Williams, Sir Thomas (Warrington)
McDonald, Or Oonagh Ross, Rt Hon W. (Kilmarnock) Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)
McElhone, Frank Rowlands, Ted Wilson, Rt Hon Sir Harold (Huyton)
MacFarquhar, Roderick Ryman, John Wilson, William (Coventry SE)
McGuire, Michael (Ince) Sandelson, Neville Wise, Mrs Audrey
MacKenzie, Gregor Sedgemore, Brian Woodall, Alec
Mackintosh, John P. Selby, Harry Woof, Robert
Maclennan, Robert Shaw, Arnold (Ilford south) Young, David (Bolton E)
McMillan, Tom (Glasgow C) Sheldon, Robert (Ashton-u-Lyne)
Madden, Max Shore, Rt Hon Peter TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Magee, Bryan Short, Mrs Renée (Wolv NE) Mr. James Hamilton and
Mallalieu, J. P. W. Silkin, Rt Hon John (Deptford) Mr. David Stoddart
Marks, Kenneth Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)
Adley, Robert Churchill, W. S. Fletcher-Cooke, Charles
Alison, Michael Clark, Alan (Plymouth, Sutton) Fookes, Miss Janet
Amery, Rt Hon Julian Clerk, William (Croydon S) Forman, Nigel
Arnold, Tom Clegg, Walter Fowler, Norman (Sutton C'f' d)
Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne) Cope, John Fox, Marcus
Bain, Mrs Margaret Cordle, John H. Freud, Clement
Baker, Kenneth Cormack, Patrick Fry, Peter
Banks, Robert Costain, A. P. Galbraith, Hon T. G. D.
Beith, A. J. Craig, Rt Hon W. (Belfast E) Gardiner, George (Reigate)
Bell, Ronald Crawford, Douglas Gardner, Edward (S Fylde)
Bennett, Dr Reginald (Fareham) Crouch, David Gilmour, Rt Hon Ian (Chesham)
Benyon, W. Dean, Paul (N Somerset) Gilmour, Sir John (East Fife)
Berry, Hon Anthony Dodsworth, Geoffrey Glyn, Dr Alan
Biffen, John Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Godber, Rt Hon Joseph
Biggs-Davison, John Drayson, Burnaby Goodhew, Victor
Blaker, Peter du Cann, Rt Hon Edward Goodlad, Alastair
Boscawen, Hon Robert Dunlop, John Gorst, John
Bottomley, Peter Durant, Tony Gow, Ian (Eastbourne)
Bowden, A. (Brighton, Kemptown) Eden, Rt Hon Sir John Gower, Sir Raymond (Barry)
Boyson, Dr Rhodes (Brent) Edwards, Nicholas (Pembroke) Grant, Anthony (Harrow C)
Braine, Sir Bernard Elliott, Sir William Gray, Hamish
Brittan, Leon Emery, Peter Griffiths, Eldon
Brotherton, Michael Ewing, Mrs Winifred (Moray) Grimond, Rt Hon J.
Brown, Sir Edward (Bath) Eyre, Reginald Grist, Ian
Bryan, Sir Paul Fairbairn, Nicholas Grylls, Michael
Buchanan-Smith, Alick Fairgrieve, Russell Hall-Davis, A. G. F.
Budgen, Nick Farr, John Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)
Bulmer, Esmond Fell, Anthony Hampson, Dr Keith
Butler, Adam (Bosworth) Finsberg, Geoffrey Hannam, John
Chalker, Mrs Lynda Fisher, Sir Nigel Harvie Anderson, Rt Hon Miss
Hastings, Stephen Mates, Michael Shersby, Michael
Havers, Sir Michael Maude, Angus Silvester, Fred
Hayhoe, Barney Mawby, Ray Sims, Roger
Heath, Rt Hon Edward Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Skeet, T. H. H.
Henderson, Douglas Mayhew, Patrick Smith, Cyril (Rochdale)
Hicks, Robert Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove) Smith, Dudley (Warwick)
Hodgson. Robin Mills, Peter Speed, Keith
Holland, Philip Miscampbell, Norman Spence, John
Hooson, Emlyn Mitchell, David (Basingstoke) Spicer, Michael (S Worcester)
Hordern, Peter Moate, Roger Sproat, Iain
Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Monro, Hector Stainton, Keith
Howell, David (Guildford) Montgomery, Fergus Stanbrook, Ivor
Howells, Geraint (Cardigan) More, Jasper (Ludlow) Stanley, John
Hunt, David (Wirral) Morgan-Giles, Rear-Admiral Steel, David (Roxburgh)
Hurd, Douglas Morris, Michael (Northampton S) Steen, Anthony (Wavertree)
Hutchison, Michael Clark Mudd, David Stewart, Donald (Western Isles)
James, David Neave, Airey Stewart, Ian (Hitchin)
James, R. Rhodes (Cambridge) Nelson, Anthony Stokes, John
Jenkin, Rt Hon P. (Wanst'd & W'df' d) Neubert, Michael Stradling Thomas, J.
Jessel, Toby Nott, John Tapsell, Peter
Johnson Smith, G. (E Grinstead) Onslow, Cranley Taylor, R. (Croydon NW)
Johnston, Russell (Inverness) Oppenheim, Mrs Sally Taylor, Teddy (Cathcart)
Jones, Arthur (Daventry) Page, John (Harrow West) Tebbit, Norman
Jopling, Michael Page, Rt Hon R. Graham (Crosby) Thatcher, Rt Hon Margaret
Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith Page, Richard (Workington) Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)
Kershaw, Anthony Parkinson, Cecil Thomas, Rt Hon P. (Hendon S)
Kilfedder, James Pattie, Geoffrey Thompson, George
Kimball, Marcus Penhaligon, David Townsend, Cyril D
King, Tom (Bridgwater) Percival, Ian Trotter, Neville
Kitson, Sir Timothy Price, David (Eastleigh) van Straubenzee, W. R.
Knight, Mrs Jill Pym, Rt Hon Francis Viggers, Peter
Knox, David Raison, Timothy Wainwright, Richard (Colne V)
Lamont, Norman Rathbone, Tim Wakeham, John
Langford-Holt, Sir John Rees, Peter (Dover & Deal) Walder, David (Clitheroe)
Latham, Michael (Melton) Rees-Davies, W. R. Wall, Patrick
Lawrence, Ivan Reid, George Walters, Dennis
Lawson, Nigel Renton, Rt Hon Sir D. (Hunts) Warren, Kenneth
Le Marchant, Spencer Renton, Tim (Mid-Sussex) Watt, Hamish
Lester, Jim (Beeston) Ridley, Hon Nicholas Weatherill, Bernard
Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland) Rifkind, Malcolm Wells, John
Lloyd, Ian Roberts, Michael (Cardiff NW) Welsh, Andrew
Loveridge, John Roberts, Wyn (Conway) Whitelaw, Rt Hon William
Luce, Richard Rodgers, Sir John (Sevenoaks) Wiggin, Jerry
McAdden, Sir Stephen Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight) Wilson, Gordon (Dundee E)
MacCormick, Iain Ross, William (Londonderry) Winterton, Nicholas
McCrindle, Robert Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey) Young, Sir G. (Ealing, Acton)
Macfarlane, Neil Rost, Peter (SE Derbyshire) Younger, Hon George
MacGregor, John Sainsbury, Tim
Macmillan, Rt Hon M. (Farnham) St. John-Stevas, Norman TELLERS FOR THE NOES
Madel, David Shelton, William (Streatham) Mr John Corrie and
Marshall, Michael (Arundel) Shepherd, Colin Mr. Peter Morrison
Marten, Neil

Question accordingly agreed to.

Ordered, That, notwithstanding the practice of the House relating to the interval between the various stages of Bills of aids and supplies, more than one stage of the National Insurance Surcharge Bill may be proceeded with at this day's sitting.