§ Resolutions of Business Committee
§ 4.—(1) The resolutions in any report made under Standing Order No. 43 (Business Committee) for either Bill may be varied by a further report so made, whether or not within the time specified for that Bill in paragraph 2(2) or 3(2) (as the case may be) of this Order, and whether or not the resolutions have been agreed to by the House.
§ (2) The resolutions of the Business Committee may include alterations in the order in which proceedings on Consideration of either Bill are taken.
§ Dilatory Motions
§ 5. No dilatory Motion with respect to, or in the course of, Proceedings on either Bill shall be made on an allotted day except by a Member of the Government, and the Question on any such Motion shall be put forthwith.
§ Extra time on allotted days
§ 6.—(1) On an allotted day for either Bill paragraph (1) of Standing Order No. 3 (Exempted business) shall apply to the Proceedings on that Bill for one hour after Ten o'clock.
§ (2) Any period during which Proceedings on either Bill may be proceeded with after Ten o'clock under paragraph (7) of Standing Order No. 9 (Adjournment on specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration) shall be in addition to the period under this paragraph.
§ (3) If an allotted day for either Bill is one to which a Motion for the adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 9 stands over from an earlier day, a period of time 1608 equal to the duration of the Proceedings upon that Motion shall be added to the period during which Proceedings on that Bill may be proceeded with after Ten o'clock under this paragraph, and the bringing to a conclusion of any Proceedings on that Bill which, under this Order or a Resolution of the Business Committee are to be brought to a conclusion on that day shall also be postponed for a period equal to the duration of the Proceedings on the Motion.
§ Private Business
§ 7. Any private business which has been set down for consideration at Seven o'clock on an allotted day for either Bill shall, instead of being considered as provided by the Standing Orders, be considered at the conclusion of the Proceedings on that Bill on that day, and paragraph (1) of Standing Order No. 3 (Exempted business) shall apply to the private business for a period of three hours from the conclusion of the Proceedings on that Bill, or, if those Proceedings are concluded before Ten o'clock, for a period equal to the time elapsing between Seven o'clock and the Completion of those Proceedings.
§ Conclusion of Proceedings
§ 8.—(1) For the purpose of bringing to a conclusion any Proceedings which are to be brought to a conclusion at a time appointed by this Order or a Resolution of the Business Committee or the Business Sub-Committee and which have not previously been brought to a conclusion, the Chairman or Mr. Speaker shall forthwith proceed to put the following Questions (but no others), that is to say—
- (a) the Question or Questions already proposed from the Chair, or necessary to bring to a decision a Question so proposed (including, in the case of a new Clause or new Schedule which has been read a second time, the Question that the Clause or Schedule be added to the Bill);
- (b) the Question on any amendment or Motion standing on the Order Paper in the name of any Member, if that amendment or Motion is moved by a Member of the Government;
- (c) any other Question necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded;
§ (2) Proceedings under sub-paragraph (1) of this paragraph shall not be interrupted under any Standing Order relating to the sittings of the House.
§ (3) If, at Seven o'clock on an allotted day for either Bill, any Proceedings which, under this Order or a Resolution of the Business Committee, are to be brought to a conclusion at or before that time have not been concluded, any Motion for the adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 9 (Adjournment on specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration) which, apart from this Order, would stand over to that time shall stand over until those Proceedings have been concluded.1609
§ (4) If a Motion for the adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 9 stands over to Seven o'clock on an allotted day for either Bill, or to any later time under subparagraph (3) above, the bringing to a conclusion of any Proceedings on that Bill which, under this Order or a Resolution of the Business Committee, are to be brought to a conclusion on that day at any hour falling after the beginning of the Proceedings on that Motion shall be postponed for a period equal to the duration of the Proceedings on that Motions.
§ Supplemental Orders
§ 9.—(1) The Proceedings on any Motion in the House by a Member of the Government for varying or supplementing the provisions of this Order (including anything which might have been the subject of a report of the Business Committee or Business Sub-Committee shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion one hour after they have been commenced, and the last foregoing paragraph shall apply as it applies to Proceedings on one of the Bills on an allotted day for that Bill.
§ (2) If on an allotted day on which any Proceedings on either Bill are to be brought to a conclusion at a time appointed by this Order or a Resolution of the Business Committee the House is adjourned, or the sitting is suspended, before that time no notice shall be required of a Motion moved at the next sitting by a Member of the Government for varying or supplementing the provisions of this Order.
§ 10. Nothing in this Order or in a Resolution of the Business Sub-Committee or the Business Committee shall—
- (a) prevent any Proceedings to which the Order or Resolution applies from being taken or completed earlier than is required by the Order or Resolution, or
- (b) prevent any business (whether on one of the Bills or not) from being proceeded with on any day after the completion of all such Proceedings on either Bill as are to be taken on that day.
§ 11.—(1) References in this Order to Proceedings on Consideration or Proceedings on Third Reading include references to Proceedings, at those stages respectively, for, on or in consequence of re-committal.
§ (2) On an allotted day for either Bill, no debate shall be permitted on any Motion to re-commit the Bill (whether as a whole or otherwise), and Mr. Speaker shall put forthwith any Question necessary to dispose of the Motion, including the Question on any amendment moved to the Question.
12. In this Order—
'allotted day', in relation to either Bill, means any day (other than a Friday) on which that Bill is put down as the first Government Order of the day provided that in each case a Motion for allotting time to
the Proceedings on the Bill to be taken on that day has been agreed on a previous day;
'the Bills' means the Health Services Bill and the Dock Work Regulation Bill;
'Resolution of the Business Sub-Committee' means a Resolution of the Business Sub-Committee as agreed to by the Standing Committee on the Health Bill;
'Resolution of the Business Committee' means a Resolution of the Business Committee as agreed to by the House.
Before turning to the terms of the motion on the Health Services Bill I should like to go over some of the history of the Bill. It had a long gestation period. First, there came from a broad cross-section of the non-medical staff of the National Health Service considerable criticism of the present system of queue jumping in NHS hospitals. In response to this the Labour Party developed a new policy of phasing out pay beds. In February 1974 we promised to
phase out private practice from the hospital service
and in the October manifesto we stated that the Labour Government
is now working out a scheme for phasing private beds out of these hospitals".
§ The Health Services Bill fulfils the letter and spirit of these commitments. When the Bill was given a Second Reading on 27th April we began the first stage on that commitment. Tonight's motion is to secure that the parliamentary process is carried through with a due sense of urgency, but without unreasonable restrictions on debate.
The philosophy which led to the preparation of this Bill was very well expressed by my predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) when she said in the debate on the Address back in November 1974 that
the overriding purpose of social policy must be to build the cohesive society. We shall unite the nation only to the extent that we are willing to share things, to share common risks, to share common services, to share a common environment. We shall never unite it by creating two standards in our services, two standards of education, two standards of social services, two standards of health care.
That is why we are committed in our manifesto to phase out pay beds from the National
Health Service … We shall do so not out of envy or ideological spite but because it is wrong that those who have money should be able to jump the queue. It is wrong to have two standards of care for two classes of patients in our hospitals."—[Official Report, 1st November 1974; Vol. 880, c. 545.]
§ I have repeated her words tonight because she put it far better than I can.
§ On Second Reading I reminded the House that many staff who work in the NHS have often been offended by what they have seen as the operation of a system opposed to the principle of public service, and many more have been offended by what they have seen as the abuses of the NHS which have followed—of queue jumping, of greater attention to private patients than to NHS patients, and generally by the implication of dual standards. The history of the process of consultations which led in April this year to the publication of the Health Services Bill is familiar to hon. Members. As I said when the Bill was introduced, the means by which the National Health Service and private sector health care are to be separated have gained a great deal from the consultation that has taken place since the publication of the consultative document in August 1975.
§ The Bill has been drafted to implement the proposals which my predecessor announced on 15th December 1975, and thus to fulfil the promise of legislation which was given in the Queen's Speech on 19th November that year. As hon. Members are aware, those proposals had been drawn up in the light of consultations, through Lord Goodman, with representatives of the medical profession, and the Bill safeguards the right of doctors and dentists to work both privately and in the National Health Service.
§ The Bill represents a compromise: I am not embarrassed about that, but glad of it. The proposals which formed the compromise, on which it is based, were regarded by the consultants in their ballot as an acceptable basis for legislation, if legislation had to come.
§ Mr. Cyril Smith (Rochdale)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Can you advise us whether the Secretary of State is reading from the right brief? He is making a speech that ought to have been made on Second Reading. He has not yet said a word about why the guillotine should be applied, but has been 1612 speaking about why the Bill should be approved. We are not debating that at present.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bryant Godman Irvine)
I have no doubt that the Secretary of State has heard what has been said.
§ Mr. Ennals
Of course I shall be dealing with why the guillotine has been brought in. One of the most important reasons is that this is an important Bill and we should recognise the disadvantage to the NHS and the trouble and disturbance which would be created if commitments entered into by this House were not fulfilled before the end of the Session.
That is my argument. If the hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Smith) is here to argue only about the timetable, he has his priorities wrong.
§ Mr. Cyril Smith
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The Secretary of State has just said that if I am here merely to argue about the timetable motion, I have my priorities wrong. Could you rule on what is the subject of this debate? Is it the Bill, or is it merely the timetable motion? The Minister does not seem to take the view that we are discussing only the motion.
§ Mr. Ennals
We are discussing a timetable motion on two Bills. The essence of the Bill is part of the reason for the timetable. I have no hesitation in arguing the case for the Bill on the Floor of the House. We want to ensure that it becomes the law of the land.
I turn now to the form of the timetable motion. This is in its details in accordance with precedents except for one aspect, which I will explain. When the Standing Committee began, on 18th May, I said that it was the Government's hope to send the Bill to another place early in July. For a Bill of 19 principal clauses and two principal schedules, that was not an unreasonable target. After consultation, I thought it wise to start with two morning sittings a week, and the Committee so resolved.
But I gave notice then that after a time we should review progress and consider whether we needed to have a third 1613 sitting in a week. This was a very normal, civilised approach. By the fourth sitting, the Committee had dealt with only Clause 1 and was in the middle of Schedule 1. Clearly we were progressing far too slowly.
I gave notice that I would move a new sittings motion on 8th June. I found that the Opposition had decided to oppose that motion, in spite of the fact that it was in accordance with discussions that we had had. So I deferred moving it in the hope that the Opposition would recognise that the will of the House, which gave the Bill a Second Reading by a majority of 20, should prevail. On 15th June, I asked the Committee to agree to sit additionally in the afternoons one day a week, three sittings a week in all, not excessive. If that motion had been agreed, there would by tonight have been 23 sittings instead of 17. With the afternoon sittings going on to an average of 7.30, that would have totalled 60½ hours. With later sittings, it is more likely that we should have chalked up about 75 hours by now.
In fact we have had only 42½ hours. The Conservative Opposition and the Ulster Member voted against my motion to sit three times a week. The Chairman, in accordance with precedent, gave a casting vote in favour of the existing sittings motion. Progress has continued to be slow. We spent 13 hours on Clause 4 alone. We have had constituency speeches from some hon. Members. We have had speeches reiterating very much the same Second Reading arguments, sometimes warned for being out of order, rarely quite on the point. We have dealt with only one main schedule and six clauses. There are 17 clauses and a main schedule still to be dealt with. I think it is becoming increasingly clear why in these circumstances the Government felt bound to put down a timetable motion on this Bill.
The purpose of the motion is not only to set a time for the completion of the Committee stage, but, just as important, to ensure that there is adequate time for debate of the remaining clauses and schedules. It is the Oppositon who, by refusing to agree to additional sittings of the Standing Committee, have sought to deny to the Committee the time for debate which the Bill clearly needed. It is they who have insisted on the leisurely 1614 pace we have seen in Committee Room 10. Tonight's motion gives us seven sittings more than we should have had if we had been forced to continue with two sittings a week—that is a minimum of 17 extra hours for debate.
It has been sheer irresponsibility on the part of the Opposition to try to curtail the time available for debate as they have. The only way left for the Government to ensure that the remaining clauses of the Bill are properly and thoroughly considered is to come back to the House as we are doing tonight. Despite the difficulties, I believe that we have improved those parts of the Bill which we have considered in Committee. Indeed, a Bill can hardly ever have got so far with so few commitments for possible revision on Report.
I made it clear when I published the Bill and on Second Reading that we should not depart from the principles of the proposals published by my predecessor on 15th December and embodied in the Bill. If we were to do so, we should be taking a path—one way or the other—to fresh division and damage to the NHS. That is why the Government have strenuously resisted Opposition attempts to distort the principles of the Bill—for example, to put a new duty on the board or the Government to promote private medicine.
Equally, I have argued against amendments from Labour Members which would have led away from the 15th December proposals in the opposite direction. Of the amendments tabled by the Opposition 139 have been withdrawn or not called and 35 negatived, six have been agreed to, as have 16 Government amendments. The Government amendments, including some still to be debated, do not affect the principle of the Bill, but have been made, following talks with representatives of the professions, to clarify and improve the working of the Bill.
In view of what the BMA said in its resolution at its annual representative meeting last week, I must emphasise that there has been ample time for those principally affected by the Bill—both the professions and the independent hospitals—to express their views. We did not publish the Bill until 12th April, by which time there had been over two years since our election with this commitment.
1615 Since publication I have met representatives from the BMA and BDA on no fewer than four occasions to discuss different aspects of the Bill, in particular those which both sides agreed could be improved by amendments to the Bill.
The amendments made reflect the degree of consultation in which I have taken part. Also, where amendments were not necessary, the Government have given clear undertakings. Let me mention a few of the main items. We clarified the provisions for appointment of deputies and the committees of the Health Services Board to stress its independence. We gave undertakings about the method of consultation on appointments. We have tabled amendments acceptable to the profession to confirm the status of general practitioners' private practice when they use National Health Service health centres. We have clarified the instructions to the Health Services Board for the preparation of its proposals on phasing out facilities for outpatient work.
We have tabled amendments to Part III of the Bill, as I undertook to do on Second Reading, to meet the anxiety of the independent developers that for their smaller schemes, which we judge will not damage the National Health Service, the procedure in the Bill was unduly cumbersome. We have decided that the Health Service Commissioner should have the board within his scope. Amendments to Schedule 1 will be moved on Report to that effect. There has been wide consultation, and as a result many changes have been made in the Bill to ensure that it is more effective.
Let me return to the timetable motion. It directs the Committee to report the Health Services Bill to the House by 3rd August, over three months after Second Reading. It directs the Committee to sit twice daily, except on Mondays and Fridays. This latter provision—it is paragraph 1(2)—is designed to overcome the difficulty that we have met with already—namely, that the Committee might refuse to alter the present sittings motion. With this direction on sittings the Committee will have up to 12 more sittings.
If Members feel that this is a last minute rush and hard grind. I point out that the total number of sittings on this basis will be 29 by 3rd August. If the Com- 1616 mittee had already stepped up its sittings, as I asked on 15th June, and which was denied by the Opposition, it would have sat exactly 29 times by 3rd August.
The purpose of that part of the motion is to catch up on the time we were forced to lose because the Opposition insisted on going at a leisurely pace. They denied to the Committee the opportunity of the very consultation that they had insisted we should effectively take. That being the case, I think that Opposition Members should be very careful about their opposition to the motion.
It is, as I have said, the Government's responsibility to ensure adequate time for debate, to concentrate into the next two weeks well over half as much time again as we have been able to give to the Bill in the past two months. It is equally a responsibility of the Government to ensure that the Bill passes through all its stages and gets on to the statute book in the autumn. There would be great dismay, and indeed bitterness, among thousands of those who work in the health service if the Government failed in their responsibility, a responsibility given them by the House on Second Reading. We must put this legislation on the statute book so that pay beds cease to be the divisive issue they have been for so long within our NHS.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Patrick Jenkin (Wan stead and Woodford)
The Secretary of State has offered us two excuses and one reason for the guillotine. One of his two excuses was that some of my hon. Friends have been making what he called constituency speeches. It is the first time that I have ever heard the excuse put forward for the introduction of a guillotine that hon. Members have chosen to illustrate their arguments with examples from their own constituencies. If that is the level of tolerance of the right hon. Gentleman, he is a very sensitive Secretary of State indeed.
His second excuse, which he dwelt on at rather greater length, was that he failed to muster a sufficient majority to get a sittings motion for afternoon sittings. Thereby hangs a crucial point not only for this Bill but for other of the Bills now subject to guillotine motions. When a Government have such a paper-thin majority that they cannot 1617 be sure of commanding a majority in Committee, they have no right to introduce highly controversial legislation. To say that because the Opposition resisted the sittings motion it is necessary for the guillotine to fall is a travesty of an argument.
The right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that he should not have introduced the Bill. He did not have to do so. If he had taken the wise course and referred the issue of pay beds to the Royal Commission, as should have been done, none of these difficulties would have arisen.
Apart from excuses, the right hon. Gentleman gave one reason for our being faced with a guillotine motion today—namely, what he called "the long gestation period." From the moment that the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) announced this policy on 5th May 1975 to the stage when the Bill finally arrived in Committee was a period of nearly 14 months. She announced the policy on 5th May; on 15th August she published the consultative document. There was uproar at that stage. By 15th December compromise proposals had been hammered out—the so-called Goodman proposals.
It was the end of February 1976 before the BMA was able to complete and announce the result of the consultants' ballot. It was not until 5th April that the Bill was introduced to the House. On 27th April it had its Second Reading—over three weeks later—and it was 18th June before it started consideration in Committee. One reason for the delay was that the Government got into a muddle over the number of their Members they were entitled to have in Committee. "Long gestation period" indeed! We have seen a period of unparalleled delay in the introduction and getting under way of a Bill. That is why we are having a guillotine. Let us make no mistake about that.
The attitude of Labour Members was succinctly and contemptuously put by the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock), whom I am glad to see in his place. When the Leader of the House announced the business for this week last Thursday the hon. Gentleman asked:Is my right hon. Friend aware, further, that there is a greater danger to this Parliament 1618 from fatuous and superficial scrutiny of Bills than from the expedition of business which the people of the country demand?"—[Official Report, 15th July 1976; Vol. 915, c. 912.]That was the true voice of Socialist arrogance. It is no accident that the hon. Gentleman has been a close associate of the Leader of the House for many years.
§ Mr. Neil Kinnock (Bedwellty)
It is no accident at all. It is a matter of choice by me and, I hope, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. The fact is that there was nothing contemptuous in my contribution. I was merely pointing out that the nation and the Parliament have nothing to gain by the loquacious repetition of irrelevances that the right hon. Gentleman knows, as I well know, damages in Committee and on the Floor of the House the thoroughgoing scrutiny which is the function of the House. It might take longer and should be permitted to take longer if it was not for the time that we wasted on exchanging insults and swopping each other's speeches.
§ Mr. Jenkin
I should accept that from the hon. Gentleman if I felt that he had the slightest idea of drawing a distinction between loquacity and thorough-going scrutiny. His comment epitomises the Socialist creed—namely, a total intolerance of those who disagree with it, coupled with the arrogance that it represents the will of the people. It is that attitude that beyond all else makes the Labour Party unfit to be trusted with power.
The Guardian, usually one of the Labour Party's supporters, described the multi-guillotine asa measure of a desperately cynical kind".In fact, it is only the latest in a long catalogue of parliamentary thuggery by this Government: their refusal to recognise that they have lost their majority in Committees; their decision to suspend the rules of the House with the aircraft and shipbuilding procedure motion; their resort to cheating when they saw that they were to lose that motion; and their ruthless overriding of private rights in the Ebbw Vale planning affair. These measures and many others have rightly earned the Leader of the House the soubriquet of "The Great Dictator". I am bound to add that most of the great 1619 dictators of the world have been a good deal more efficient than he is.
Now we have this timetable motion. Why? Because the Government's legislative programme is in an unholy mess. There is no other reason.
The Health Services Bill is one of the measures which The Times called "this overdraft of absurdity" inherited by the Prime Minister. It is absurd. Let me give the facts.
Absurdity No. 1 is that the Bill, on the Government's own admission, will cost up to £20 million a year in lost fees, although others put the cost a good deal higher. Yet today we read in the newspapers that the Secretary of State, with that grim singleness of purpose which has characterised his political career, is preparing to agree to higher prescription charges and higher spectacles and dental fees and is even prepared to look at some other sacred cows—payment for hospital beds, payment for visits to the general practioner. Yet this wretched Bill will cost the Government £20 million or more in lost fees from people who are ready and willing to pay for their treatment.
Absurdity No. 2 is that the Bill is supposed to make more beds available to NHS patients. We have had much argument about this. I should like to quote from a letter which I received this morning from a distinguished consultant at a London specialist hospital, Mr. G. C. Lloyd Roberts. Speaking of pay beds, he said:At my hospital we are told that six must close to meet the proposed new regulations. The cost of maintaining these beds is £58,000 on 1975–76 figures, but they are of course at present self-supporting. It will not be possible for us to find this money from our budget to enable us to use them for national health patients, for we are not to receive additional funds for this purpose. These beds will consequently have to be closed.Because of the shortage of money, that will happen all over the country. Private beds will be phased out only to be closed. Services will be reduced and waiting lists will be longer. So the removal of pay beds only makes matters worse.
I come to absurdity No. 3. The hon. Member for Bedwellty referred tothe expedition of business which the people of the country demand.That is the biggest absurdity of all.
1620 In yesterday's Daily Mail, John Stevenson quoted a National Opinion Polls survey of opinion on the policies embodied in the Bill. I have here a full copy of the survey report. It was based on interviews in April with nearly 2,000 adults in Great Britain, using what is called a systematic probability sample. As in any survey, there is a margin of error, but I suggest that the results of the survey obliterate any possible distortion due to a margin of error. I quote to the House one or two figures.
§ Mr. Jenkin
Yes—it was commissioned by BUPA. If that is intended to cast doubt on the professional integrity of National Opinion Polls, the right hon. Gentleman should be prepared to stand up and say so. I will quote a few figures.Question: Do you feel that the number of beds for private patients in hospitals should be greatly increased/be increased/remain as they are/be decreased/be removed altogether?The figures for the first three categories, be greatly increased/be increased/remain as they are were 64 per cent. and for the categories be decreased/removed, 28 per cent. That is more than two to one. Taking Labour voters who were asked the same question—
§ Mr. Jenkin
If Labour Members know about this, it is all the more inexcusable that they should be pushing through this motion. For Labour voters, the figure for the first category is 54 per cent. and for the second group 39 per cent.
Taking members of leading trade unions—the Transport and General Workers, the Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers, the General and Municipal Workers, NALGO and NUPE—the figure for the first category is 60 per cent. and for the second category 35 per cent.
§ Mr. Grocott
In judging public opinion, does the hon. Gentleman think that we should take more note of NOP surveys or General Elections?
§ Mr. Jenkin
I should be interested to know whether the results in the recent by-elections in Rotherham and Thurrock reflected the results of the poll.
The survey went on to ask several specific questions, and we are entitled to have regard to the evidence of public opinion on this issue.Do you agree with Barbara Castle's proposed law to close down a thousand private beds in NHS hospitals?Of all respondents the answer is 25 per cent. "Yes"' and 65 per cent. "No". The answer of Labour supporters was 36 per cent. "Yes", and 52 per cent. "No". Of the major trade unions the answer was 31 per cent. "Yes", and 60 per cent. "No".Do you think that instead of closing them down, the whole question of private beds should be referred to a Royal Commission?The answer of all respondents was 55 per cent. "Yes" and 24 per cent. "No". That is a policy which has been consistently advocated by the Conservative Party. The answer of Labour supporters was 48 per cent. "Yes", 29 per cent. "No".
So the general public has no support for the Bill. When the hon. Member for Bedwellty said that the guillotine was justified for pushing through legislation "which the public demanded", he was talking through his hat.
§ Mr. Kinnockrose—
§ Mr. Kinnock
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I find it extraordinary that the right hon. Gentleman should mention an hon. Member specifically by name, using facts to support his case, and yet forbear to give way.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Oscar Murton)
The hon. Gentleman knows that there is no suggestion of a point of order in that.
§ Mr. Jenkin
I gave way to the hon. Gentleman before, but his comments 1622 were so fatuous that I do not want to give way again.
Let us look at the consequences of the timetable motion. There are to be six debating days for the rest of the Committee stage spread over two weeks. That is a major improvement on the four debating days in one week in yesterday's Order Paper. It will be very tight, and we shall have to sit very late if we are to do justice to the Bill. We have to consider the rest of Part II, the whole of Part III and the entire subject of the first 1,000 pay beds.
The real difficulty comes with the Government's obligation to consult. One advantage of having moved at a fairly leisurely pace over the last few weeks is that the Government have been enabled to consult the various organisations before they have come to the clauses. What will happen now when there are consultations on Clause 3 and Schedule 2 which deal with the 1,000 pay beds? On the Government's motion we agreed that the clause and schedule should be taken right at the end. They deal with the key list of 1,000 pay beds to be phased out within six months.
Under the Goodman proposals, the consultations had to come down to the level of the individual hospital. That process started only at the end of May with a letter from the Secretary of State's Department to area administrators. By then the Bill was already in Committee; the consultations are still in progress. I am told that on 2nd July officials of the Department of Health and Social Security told representatives of the BMA that they wanted further meetings to discuss the contents of the schedule, but as yet no dates for those further meetings have been offered to the BMA representatives.
What are we to do? Are we to debate the schedule? We may come to it next week, and the Government may not be ready to present to the Committee their firm proposals. That would make debating exceedingly difficult.
Even then, it would not be wholly impossible if we could be assured of enough time on Report, so that we could consider the Government's amendments on Report. But there will not be enough time on Report, because we are being offered only one day for Report and Third 1623 Reading under the motion. How can we deal with the Bill in one day? We are concerned in Schedule 2 with the complete list of pay beds across the country.
This will be the first opportunity for hon. Members in all parts of the House to voice the anxieties being expressed to them by their area health authorities as a result of the Bill. I would suggest that would justify one day on Report by itself. But this Report stage will be a special one. It will be a very full one. We are now half way through Clause 8 and already we have had 26 tied votes in Committee—I exclude the vote on the sittings motion. That is 26 votes decided by the Chairman's casting vote.
By custom, those amendments may be tabled again and are almost certain to be selected for debate so that the House can come to a firm conclusion, by a majority vote, as to whether those amendments ought to be accepted. If we have had 26 votes so far there cannot be fewer than 50, at a very conservative estimate indeed, by the time we reach the end of the Bill. Even if we debated each of them again for only 15 minutes, allowing 7½ minutes for the mover of the amendment and 7½ minutes for the Government's reply, that alone would absorb more than the whole of the time that the Government are giving for Report in this guillotine motion.
For the Minister to say, as he did in his opening remarks, that he would give adequate time for debate on the Bill is just outrageous. There will be nothing for new clauses, nothing for Government amendments, no time to follow up the Government undertakings. There will be nothing for any new amendments and nothing for Third Reading.
I submit that that would be a travesty of parliamentary debate and it makes absolute nonsense of the Secretary of State's claim that this will be achieved without "unreasonable restriction" of debate. I do not know why the right hon. Gentleman is laughing: those were his words. He expects us to take the whole of the Report stage in one day. That would indeed fully justify the charge offull-hearted contempt for Parliamentof which the Leader of the House accused us of in 1972.
1624 We must have more time on Report. That will not come until the overspill in October or November, so there is time for second thoughts and there is time to give a second day. Yesterday Mr. Speaker said that it was not for him to comment on the propriety of these guillotine motions, that that would be for today's debates. It is an outrage to take five Bills in one day and it will inflict a gaping wound on the flesh of our constitution. The Secretary of State jeers, but let me remind him that much of our constitution is to be found in the Standing Orders of the House. As one noted jurist said:Freedom and justice are to be found secreted in the interstices of procedure".There is a wealth of truth in that.
It is an outrage to take the Dock Work Regulation Bill and the Health Services Bill in the same motion, doctors and dockers at the same time. My right hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) will move an amendment to separate them at a later stage of the debate.
It is an outrage to guillotine the Health Services Bill and force it through without proper debate when the reasons for the Government's difficulties are not the intransigence of the Opposition. There has been no suggestion of a filibuster. Indeed, the first filibuster we saw came from the Government Back Benchers this morning because they were a man short and refused to face a Division in Committee. The Government did not have enough Members to carry it, so there was a filibuster.
The real reason, therefore, is the bungling mismanagement of the Government. Their policy was announced as long ago as May 1975 and it took nearly 14 months to get the Bill in Committee. A year of blunder and bungle, and to rescue themselves they resort to bluster and bludgeon: all this in respect of a Bill which commands the support of less than 30 per cent. of the electorate and only a minority of even Labour Party supporters in the country.
This guillotine is a product of dictatorial intolerance and self-righteous bigotry which are the hallmarks of modern Socialism and, as such, I call on my hon. and right hon. Friends to throw it out at the end of this debate.
§ 8.9 p.m.
§ Mrs. Barbara Castle (Blackburn)
We have had a very interesting admission from the right hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Jenkin) in the course of his predictably excited speech. He admitted that the reason for the guillotine was not that the Government had tried, or were trying, to curb the debate, because the right hon. Gentleman admitted that the Opposition defeated the sittings motion in Committee. In other words, our crime in his eyes was that we failed to get a majority for insisting that the Committee had more time. He wanted his freedom and his liberty imposed upon him. He was very angry when we failed to succeed in the sittings motion which he was doing his best to defeat. That is a very interesting starting point, because we always have accusations and counter-accusations hurled across the House of Commons whenever a guillotine motion is introduced by any Government.
I have been a Member of the House of Commons for 31 years and I have been present for quite a few guillotine motions—far more from the Conservative side than from the Labour side. But we always have the same sort of complaints and disputes. We therefore have to have an important and major charge brought against the Government before the introduction of the guillotine can be considered a crime. If it is a crime, it is one which is shared universally.
§ Mrs. Castle
I am sorry. I do not intend to give way, because other hon. Members wish to speak.
What is the reason for this guillotine? The right hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford admitted that the reason was not that we were trying to curtail time or suppress discussion. What, then, is the reason he advances for this guillotine which he denounces? It is quite clear. He said that we had no right to impose a guillotine on such a controversial Bill. I think, however, that the right hon. Gentleman is not even in touch with his own party's recent history.
§ The Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Albert Booth)
§ Mrs. Castle
I see that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment agrees. He knows exactly what I am going to talk about. I am going to talk about a Conservative timetable motion, the one introduced in January 1971 on the Industrial Relations Bill, which was rushed before the House of Commons with maximum speed as one of the first acts of the Conservative Government elected in 1970. I remind the House that the consultation on that Bill was non-existent. None took place, but that did not inhibit the Government of the day from seeking to impose a timetable motion almost at the very beginning of the Committee stage.
How did the then Leader of the House, the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw) justify that guillotine? This is what he said:There are some Bills oil which quite understandably the views of the Government and Opposition are so much opposed that reasonable arrangements cannot work. I contend that this Bill is such a case."—[Official Report; 25th January 1971; Vol. 810, c. 42.]He justified the guillotine on the Industrial Relations Bill simply on the ground that it was loathed so much by the trade union movement. It was certainly loathed by the trade union movement far more than the Health Services Bill is loathed by the British Medical Association. Simply because it was controversial, the right hon. Gentleman said that his Government's Bill had to be guillotined.
We know that there is some basic common sense in that, because, if feelings run high and the Opposition conceive it as their duty to obstruct by any device they can, however subtly organised, they will do so. I pay tribute to the subtlety of hon. Members in Committee on the Health Services Bill in disguising that they were taking rather more time over their arguments than was necessary for effective democratic debate. This is the reason why we have to guillotine. It is a controversial measure, and the Opposition made it clear to us that they would fight it tooth and nail.
But there the comparison between the Health Services Bill and the Industrial Relations Bill ends abruptly. I remind the House that the Industrial Relations Bill of 1971 was a constitutional measure of major importance, transforming our 1627 industrial relations law. It consisted of 150 clauses and eight schedules. It was four times as large and certainly more than four times as important as the Health Services Bill, which consists of 23 clauses and five schedules.
The Industrial Relations Bill was given by the Conservative Government only 100 hours in Committee. We have already spent 42½ hours in Committee on the Health Services Bill, and under the guillotine motion we shall have 12 more sittings in Committee if we wish to avail ourselves of the opportunity, six of them of two and a half hours' duration each, giving another 15 hours, and six of the sittings open-ended. It would therefore take only six afternoon sittings of four and a half hours' duration each to double the amount of time we have already spent on the Bill, bringing the total amount of time in Committee up to 85 hours for a Bill of 23 clauses and five schedules, compared with the Conservative Government's 100 hours for the revolutionary Industrial Relations Bill of 150 clauses and eight schedules. So the second leg of the right hon. Gentleman's opposition collapses, as always on the guillotines.
It is right to put on record that we can have 85 hours in Committee for a 23-clause Bill. The right hon. Gentleman waxed almost apoplectic at the fact that the Government propose one day for Report and Third Reading. Only four days were allowed for Report and Third Reading of the Industrial Relations Bill, which was four times the size and 20 times the complexity of the Health Services Bill. So can we please have a little less hypocrisy? Let us realise that a guillotine is now necessary.
§ Mr. Patrick Jenkin
Does not the right hon. Lady recognise that the question of the tied votes and the right to come back on these points on Report makes this a rather exceptional case?
§ Mrs. Castle
No, I do not accept that. Under the timetable motion of the Conservative Government in 1971, whole sections of the new industrial relations law were never discussed in Committee at all. It is no wonder that we ended up with the worst confrontation in our industrial history, no wonder our predecessors got into such a mess over the closed shop. It is no wonder they have 1628 had to say publicly "If you elect us again, we will never reintroduce the Industrial Relations Act." The failure to discuss that measure adequately was because of the severe timetable they introduced.
The right hon. Gentleman knows that in the Standing Committee so far on the Health Services Bill our examination could not have been more leisurely. Opposition hon. Members have exhausted every detail of every clause that the Chair considered relevant and, therefore, in order. They considered those clauses at three or four times the length that we did on our side of the Committee. Indeed, they so squeezed the juice out of Clause 2 that when it came to the point the Chairman said that there was nothing to discuss on the motion "That the clause stand part of the Bill".
That is the kind of exhaustive examination we have had, and in the process we have dealt with six major clauses and one schedule and we are half-way through the seventh major clause. Ignoring such things as the schedule dealing with enactments repealed, we have left only nine important clauses and one important schedule to discuss. I have demonstrated that we could spend twice as much time again under the timetable motion as we have done already without straining ourselves, without ever sitting later than 8.30 p.m. or, with a dinner break, after 10 o'clock at night.
If all this legislation now comes bunched at the end, that is really not our fault. We would rather spread it out. No more than anyone else do we want to be working all through the day in the last weeks of a hot and tiring Session. That was why we tried to spread things sensibly, but we were turned down by the Opposition, whose only hope politically is to create the "phoney" issue of the Iron Curtain State—and that coming from the party which created the Industrial Relations Bill and guillotined it in so savage and brutal a way. We have our disagreements on the Health Services Bill. Let us argue them out. We have plenty of time to do it, but in the process let us be spared hypocrisy.
§ 8.18 p.m.
§ Sir Frederic Bennett (Torbay)
The right hon. Lady the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) repeated two fallacies. 1629 The first is the claim that the Tories in the last half century have introduced more guillotine motions than the Labour Party has done. It is time that that nonsense was put to rest once and for all. In the last 50 years, there have been 34 years of Conservative or Conservative-dominated Governments and only 16 of Labour or Labour-dominated Governments. It is therefore not altogether surprising that there should have been more guillotine motions during the Tory period. The right hon. Lady should accept that it would be odd if the figures were the other way round. Naturally, one would expect that any party which had been in power more than twice as long as the other might well have had more guillotine motions.
The right hon. Lady's second fallacy was her reference to the Industrial Relations Bill. She is perhaps a little sensitive because of the document which gave birth to some of the ideas in that Bill, but she remained silent on that aspect and one can well imagine why she does not want it to be disinterred.
The right hon. Lady did not mention one great difference between 1970 and today. We had a clear majority, whereas the Labour Party does not command a clear and decisive majority. To seek to compare what happens when a party has a clear majority and support for its mandate and what happens when it does not is a considerable fallacy. [Interruption.] shouting from a seated position will do nothing but prolong the debate, which I would welcome. The more debate, the better.
I turn to the question of public opinion. It has been said that the figures quoted from the Opposition Front Bench are not convincing because they come from the National Opinion Poll. I am not sure what causes the slur. If the figures that were quoted by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Jenkin) had shown precisely the opposite—that there was a clear majority in all fields in favour of the Government's policy—the Secretary of State would have been the first to bound to hte Dispatch Box in their support. From the way in which the right hon. Gentleman is laughing, I can see that he knows that to be so. Let us have less cant.
1630 Irrespective of the NOP figures, it has been claimed that the Government's policies have the clear support of the people. They should look at what happened at Rotherham and Thurrock. Any party that starts off with a majority of 19,000 and then finds it cut down to less than 4,000 should be concerned. That situation would worry many hon. Members on this side. I could imagine my own state of distress if in Torbay my personal majority of up to 18,000 were to fall to 4,000. I can imagine the criticism that I would have from my party leaders for what they and I would regard as a total catastrophe. The explanation of apathy and the usual rigmarole that is spelt out when a majority falls is not the significant point. But it is significant that in a lower poll people who voted Labour last time voted Conservative this time.
§ Mr. Ennals
The hon. Gentleman lays great stress on the value of public opinion polls. But did he notice that the last Gallup Poll showed that the Government would have a lead if there were an election at this time? Has he given thought to that?
§ Sir F. Bennett
Yes, I have. The right hon. Gentleman has now admitted that if he could pick out a figure which was favourable to his party he would do so. That was my argument, and I cannot be more pleased that he has admitted that. By-elections have not shown that the Government are on the up-and-up in public confidence.
There are three reasons why I have chosen to contribute to the debate. First, I pay tribute to the Leader of the House. [Interruption.] The right hon. Member for Blackburn had better listen before she laughs so swiftly. I have not been in the House as long as the Leader of the House, but when in 1951 I listened to him thundering from the Benches I was immensely impressed by both his sincerity and his eloquence when he argued against guillotine motions. At that time he really was a parliamentary St. George fighting to slay the executive dragon. It is particularly pathetic that he should now reverse that role and become a rather inept dragon himself. At that time the right hon. Gentleman's eloquence and sincerity appeared to be real, but on Thursday, when he announced what the Government were to do, he claimed that 1631 the Opposition's indignation was synthetic. Will he now have the arrogance to say that the indignation that he showed between 1951 and 1964 was real and valid? Or will he admit that he was not the parliamentary St. George that we thought him but was a synthetic fraud trying to put across one point of view until he gained office, when he would put forward another view? He is in honour bound to confess to the House whether he was being synthetic or real.
The second reason why I want to speak is that, although I have not been a member of the Committees on the Bills under discussion, I have read the reports of each of them. I notice that although phrases like "leisured" have been used, there has been no allegation of deliberate or calculated filibustering. Whether something is leisured is a matter of opinion and degree. Filibustering is a matter of policy, and there is no indication that an act of delay was involved in Committee.
The third reason for my contribution involves a major criticism of the multiguillotine. We have had a succession of speeches which have dealt mainly with the Health Services Bill. We were courteously told that the Dock Work Regulation Bill would be dealt with in the Government's winding-up speech. How can that be other than a parody of parliamentary procedure? We have been told that on one of the two guillotines that we are discussing hon. Members will not be able to say a word in response to the Government's case. We can only listen to the arguments of the Minister responsible for the Bill and not say a word about it ourselves. How can that be said to be an adequate opportunity for Bank Benchers? The only speech we shall have from the Front Bench will be just before we are precluded by the sounding of the Division Bells from making any comment on that speech. If that is fair, or if that is what is called generous time, Parliament is in a sorry state.
I do not know why we could not have had five separate debates, even if it meant sitting really late. To put the Bills together is interference with the normal running of the House, especially when one Bill will not even be mentioned until the concluding stages of the 1632 debate. It is nonsense to suggest that we shall have had an opportunity to put forward our points of view in the absence of any Front Bench comments. Moreover, all the arguments advanced so far for the guillotine on the Health Services Bill have no relevance to the Dock Work Regulation Bill. That is not a matter of speeches, leisurely or otherwise, in Committee. That Bill was reported to the House on 25th May, and none of the arguments about leisurely speeches or failure to keep agreements can be used. The Bill could have been taken at any time without a guillotine motion.
The Government may have their own reasons for not having put that Bill forward. My guess, which defeats their whole claim that they speak for a majority in the country, is that they knew that until two by-elections and something else happened they could not use the majority which they claimed and which events are increasingly proving they do not have, any more than they had a majority at the last General Election for some of their controversial policies.
The Government have a minority in the country, and to all intents and purposes they are a near minority party in the House. The more they resort to these practices, the more the people will say "Let more by-elections come soon, so that we can get rid of even the fragmented majority the Government purport to have".
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Laurie Pavitt (Brent, South)
When the guillotine motion was announced, my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) made the apt comment that the Opposition had got what they had been seeking ever since the Health Services Bill began its passage through the House. All their tactics and their whole strategy have been to that end, and now they have achieved it. They knew the consequences, because they are as experienced parliamentarians as the rest of us. We have been through the process many times, seeing it from both sides of the House.
The hon. Member for Torbay (Sir F. Bennett) rested a great deal of his case on the question whether we had a majority. We have had a two-party system for many generations. There is a substantial majority of one major party 1633 over the other. If the hon. Gentleman was trying to suggest that when a party, elected on a certain programme, found itself in difficulty it should then run away from that programme, that is a funny argument. It is strange to suggest that politicians should not be willing or able to carry out their promises.
The right hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Jenkin) talked about the Bill as being the property of the previous Secretary of State. This is not the Bill of the previous Secretary of State: it is the Government's Bill, part of the programme they put forward in the Gracious Speech. The Bill redeems a promise we made then.
It must be common knowledge that every Government from time to time have introduced guillotine motions to get their business through. There is a rather dreary repetition in the speeches, because the argument, whether advanced by Labour or Conservative Oppositions, usually rests on a thin base. The basic arguments are few.
I have sat on every National Health Serivce Bill since I entered the House in 1959. I come to this Bill with a background of experience in the NHS and in the legislation that both parties have put through the House. Whereas my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn wished to compare the motion before us with the motion on the Industrial Relations Bill in 1971, I should like to address the House from the point of view of the last major controversial health service legislation, the National Health Service Reorganisation Act 1973. I served on the Standing Committee which considered that measure. It had six weeks in Committee compared with the nine weeks that we are now entering for the present Bill.
My party, which was then in opposition, strongly opposed the 1973 Act, which had 58 clauses and five schedules. The Committee sittings lasted a total of 53½ hours. After 17 sittings we still have only 42½ hours on the clock for the present Bill. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State explained, we have had no more time because the Opposition decided that we should have no more. They wanted to spin it out as long as they could. That is an understandable tactic but they should not complain when 1634 requisite action is taken. Hon. Members on both sides of the House understand that an Opposition seeking to prevent a Bill from getting on to the statute book use time. They use it as a means of obstruction.
Looking back over the years my feeling is that the opposition to this Bill is perhaps one of the most irresponsible that I have ever seen. Every Opposition has a right to go as hard as they can for their own point of view and their own principles. But the most effective Opposition are based on a sense of responsibility. The most ineffective Opposition look at every single pinpoint in a Bill and descend to tedious repetition.
This is not, of course, intended in any way to be a criticism of the Chair. But there has been a return toime and time again, ad nauseam, to the same point. Topics raised in Committee have been mentioned over and over again in Second Reading speeches. One wonders how many Second Reading speeches have been devoted to each clause. I estimate that about 30 of the speeches already made in the Standing Committee could be described as Second Reading speeches.
I should like to compare the difference in style between the Labour and Conservative Oppositions. When we were in opposition in 1973, we felt that there were important and basic matters of principle that ought to be argued in Committee. We came to an agreement, through the usual channels, that we would confine our debates to the seven, eight or nine major issues, that there would be a major debate on each, and that at the end of the time the vote would be taken.
That enabled the Government of that time, through the right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph), to state their case fairly. The hon. Member for Barkston Ash (Mr. Alison) also made a notable contribution from his point of view. My hon. Friends and myself, on the other side, were enabled to bring into juxtaposition our own opposing points of view.
Then, at the end of a two and half hour debate, a conclusion was reached. We lost because of the majority on the Government Benches. Nevertheless, I believe that that is the way in which a responsible Opposition should act when 1635 trying to put their point of view strongly and to uphold their principles on the Committee stage of a Bill.
The right hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford says that, at a time when resources are at a low ebb, there is the possibility of a loss of about £20 million from private paying patients. But when I look at the Bill that was forced through in 1973, I find that, as a result of the changed administrative structure, a loss in real terms of NHS resources in the region of £70 million is involved—threeand-a-half times as much.
There was a very bureaucratic reorganisation on very schematic lines as a result of the 1973 Act. The administration was increased out of all proportion to the requirements for delivering a National Health Service. In the first full year of the reorganised service, the figure given in Hansard in Vol. 914, column 539, for headquarters administration was £121.6 million, whereas in the year prior to the reorganisation the total was £51.73 million. I have taken this figure from the National Health Service accounts for 1973–74. Conservative Members are complaining of a possible loss of resources of about £20 million, yet, as a result of their action in 1973, which we opposed, the effective loss of resources was about three-and-a-half times that amount.
The Bill is peripheral to the National Health Service. It does not deal with some of the major problems faced by the service. Hon. Members on both sides have some agreement about the kinds of things that ought to engage our attention. But the Opposition, being rather weak on political material, have chosen to make a political issue of a very small amount, less than 4½ per cent. of the National Health Service budget, which is received from the payment for services, including pay beds. That includes prescription charges, health and welfare foods, spectacles and dentures.
Yet they are making this tremendous mountain out of this matter to try to preserve the queue-jumping privilege of a few. The total number of private patients with whom this Bill deals was 113,000 in 1974. The total number of in-patients in the National Health Service in that year was 5½ million. Surgery was mentioned in Committee. The esti- 1636 mated number of operations last year was 2,716,000 for ordinary NHS patients, yet the Opposition are only concerned with the few who pay privately.
We need the guillotine because we need to protect the majority of the people who pay for the National Health Service. It is not a free service. The people pay for it day in and day out. The average amount now paid by a normal average taxpayer is £180 per year. In comparable terms over the past 25 years, a person has paid £4,450, whether or not he has use the service.
This Bill seeks to look after the interests of that section of the community. These are the real paying patients. Its emphasis is on that section of the community so as to create a community service whereby those who are healthy look after those who are ill, where there is fairness and equity in the allocation of limited resources, and where the clinical and medical needs are the predominant factors in the selection of those who receive treatment and those who do not. For that reason this guillotine motion is essential. It must be put on the statute book at the earliest opportunity.
Let us face the real problem. This small but important measure is like a piece of grit in the eye—a person cannot see clearly until it is taken out of the eye. The sooner we get it out, the better and then with this Bill on the statute book we can deal with the rest of the body of the National Health Service.
§ 8.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Cyril Smith (Rochdale)
The more I listen to the debate the more I realise what a load of old baloney it is. I have taken the trouble to look at past guillotine debates. I suspect that all we do is to rehearse the same arguments every time a Government wish to bring in a guillotine motion. I should like to feel that somebody might in future ensure that guillotine motions are not necessary, irrespective of which party is in power.
The speeches in both guillotine debates have illustrated some of the stupidities of the two-party system. They have confirmed me in my view that this is the longest-running farce in the West End. Today we shall spend nine hours, plus two and a half hours' voting time, on these debates. Everybody knows what the result of the votes will be. Nobody 1637 will be persuaded by the debate. Everybody has decided on which side to vote. We shall spend nine hours arguing. We might as well have taken the vote at 5 p.m. today and reach the same result.
One of the reasons for this situation is the fact that time is the only weapon available to the Opposition. That is certainly the view of some of the leading members of the Government and the Opposition. I have had the privilege of serving on the Select Committee on Procedure for the past 12 months. I have heard leading Members of both sides of the House express their opinion to that Committee that the only weapon available to the Opposition in the House of Commons is the weapon of time. Therefore, as long as we continue to ensure that the only weapon available to the Opposition is that of time, so long will guillotine motions be necessary, and so long will Oppositions continue to delay Bills with the only weapon available to them, the weapon of time.
One could easily demonstrate that today's debate is a repeat of previous debates. I could quote yards of stuff on this topic. Indeed, I have pages of quotations prepared for me by research assistants, who have "nowt" better to do, telling me what the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House and other people said in 1961. No doubt in 1983 the then Government, which will probably be Tory and which will be bringing in its own guillotine motions, will be quoting what was said by Labour Members, and the then Labour Opposition will in turn quote what was said by Conservatve Members in this debate in 1976. The great charade goes on.
My revered leader—I am most anxious to get that on record—called for a timetable on Bills. I strongly support that proposal and I hope that whoever has the power to do so, be he the Leader of the House or the Speaker, or whoever else it may be, will ensure that something is done to bring the matter before the appropriate Committee so that at least in future we can arrive at an agreed timetable.
§ Mr. Kenneth Lewis (Rutland and Stamford)
The hon. Gentleman makes what appears to be a reasonable suggestion, but if we look at the history of 1638 various Bills we see that the Government make concessions in Committee—indeed, there have been instances of concessions in some of the Bills that are being debated today. Therefore, unless an Opposition persist in Committee for as long as possible, how will they obtain concessions from the Government by way of amendment?
§ Mr. Smith
I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's point, but I do not necessarily agree with him. We have 600 grown men and women in this place and yet we cannot behave in a sensible way in dealing with Bills. The hon. Gentleman appears to be saying that unless one can delay a Bill for a long time, the Government will not concede anything.
§ Mr. Smith
They will not, and neither would the hon. Gentleman's party if it were in power. This is not a one-sided argument, and surely the merits of an argument are enough to extract a concession from whichever party is in Government. Time should not be used as a weapon. So long as it is used as a weapon, Governments will continue with this charade.
I have great sympathy with the Government in their guillotine motions on education and the tied cottage system, but the one amendment which my party seeks to have discussed will not even be called. It is a stupid system.
Furthermore, the Liberals had no representation on the Health Services Bill. Therefore, in democratic and in House of Commons terms, one party, and probably others, has not had the opportunity to talk on a Bill in Committee. In that way we are denied our rights because amendments on Report are now being guillotined.
I support the suggestion by the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) that two days rather than one should be allocated to the Report stage of the Health Services Bill. That is the plea I make to the Government, that we behave in a responsible way, understanding that we are anxious to do that which is in the best interests of the nation, instead of playing at party games. They have their place. They liven things up and provide a few fireworks. But in the end 1639 we must realise that in Bills which we pass we are making law, as opposed to having academic debates in the habit that half the hon. Members in this House brought with them from their university debating chambers.
§ Mr. Smith
Almost half, and I am proud of being among the other half. This is a continuation of the university scene, transferring to the House days of debate such as people have in the universities.
It may be good knockabout stuff for livening up a Bill, but when we are making legislation affecting the lives of people, we ought to be responsible and agree a timetable to ensure that matters are thoroughly and properly discussed in all aspects and all stages.
§ 8.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Neil Kinnock (Bedwellty)
At an earlier stage of the debate the hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Smith) was mildly critical of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services for appearing to give more attention to the Bill than to the question of the timetable motion, which, as I believe the House now understands, has to be done. To debate the guillotine motion without giving extensive attention to the Bill is as unthinkable as having a Liberal shadow team without the hon. Member for Rochdale. Everybody understands the interdependence of the two.
I want to devote most of my remarks not to the Bills but to the timetable motion and the issues that it poses for us. We are again in our annual legislative traffic jam, which this year is likely to cause more casualties—and I mean in physical terms, not legislative terms—than for many years past. The time has come, as it has been coming for many years, for us to rethink the whole system which, year in and year out, Session in and Session out, Government in and Government out, permits the ludicrous situation to arise that at the back end of July and in August every year there is a crushing together of Bills.
We have to rethink that, because the only real problem about the cause of today's debates is that the Bills arrive 1640 together at one time. We would certainly have heard the same speeches had the debates been more interspersed throughout the year, perhaps through different times of introduction of Bills, different dates of Second Reading or different levels of importance and determination on the part of the Opposition. If they had come at intervals of two or three months, there would not have been the same outcry. We should have heard the same speeches, although there would not have been the publicity and nonsense about an Iron Curtain Parliament and so on. We really have to do something about this.
The Opposition, like all Oppositions, are vigorously protesting against any substantial changes. I hope to show that their objection is based on a parliamentary myth and that the Opposition have only a limited time power. The idea that Opposition Members can press their cause or win advantage or concession by elongating remarks, harrying Ministers and boring the pants off everybody, including themselves, thereby fulfilling the duty of a responsible, thoroughgoing and perceptive Opposition, is absolute nonsense. The Opposition are not undertaking the scrutiny to which the country is entitled in our legislation and to which the people should become accustomed, the scrutiny which most Members of the House would like to be able to give.
Everybody in the House wants to elevate standards constantly—standards of democracy, of work and of scrutiny. There is no great contention about our wanting to do better. But doing better does not necessarily mean talking and sitting longer, volunteering ourselves for tired minds, pushing ourselves into advanced senility by staying here all night talking in circles and pretending that we are doing £6,000 worth of job on behalf of our fellow citizens every year. That is not the case at all. It is time that these myths were removed.
The reality is that the time power—it sounds like a "Dr Who" concept—deriving from time is an archaic concept. The reality now—indeed, the reality since there has been a guillotine in the House—is that the Government can restore time power to themselves simply by getting a majority to vote for a timetable motion.
Another reality that is constantly refreshing our minds is that the average 1641 age of membership of the House has fallen over recent years. It will gradually go up again until we get to the next phase of new Members. But, as the average age of Members has dropped substantially over the years and as the social background and financial resources of Members on both sides of the House have changed over the years, the attitude towards and the ability to enjoy family life have also changed. Indeed, the expectations of family life have changed. Therefore, we have another discipline on ourselves in stealing time power away from Oppositions.
Even on subjects of the most crucial, elementary and ideological difference, hon. Members, if they are honest with themselves, approach the end of July beginning to worry, as they should not have to worry, whether they will see their wives and children and be able to honour their commitments to family holidays. It is no use adopting false virility by saying that we shall slog it out night after night, that we do not care about holidays with our families and that we are prepared to sit through August, September and October. That does not convince anybody in this House. The only reaction from our constituents is "If they are as stupid as that at running their own business, what the hell are they doing trying to run ours?" That is the attitude of people outside. Therefore, we gain nothing for this House or for our honour, dignity, respect and affection by perpetuating this idiotic system.
The fact remains that there is the prospect of Governments arbitrarily using a procedure which, with the inadequacies of scrutiny that we have, will gag Parliaments for authoritarian purposes. I suggest to Opposition Members, including the right hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Jenkin), who accused us of using dictatorial methods, that it the Labour Party was bent on a malicious perversion of the rules of this House to secure a gag on Parliament it could not count on my support. Indeed, I should expect right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite to take the same line. [An HON. MEMBER: "Humbug."] I am not making a false pretence.
We have heard the figures today. The count of hours has been made by hon. Members on both sides of the House and it is acknowledged that there has been 1642 no filibustering. The fact that intelligent human beings, with briefs provided on our side by trade unionists in the National Health Service and on the other side by consultants, should take 40 hours to talk about seven clauses and not make any dramatic changes, secure any notable advances or significantly amend the Bill is absolutely preposterous. It is preposterous that so much time could have been spent in saying so little.
§ Mr. Patrick Jenkin
The hon. Member is not a member of our Committee. If he were, he would recognise that, inch by inch and foot by foot, we have driven the Government to admit that there are severe disavantages in their policy. They claim now that these disadvantages are outweighed by the advantages, but they did not start with that admission.
§ Mr. Kinnock
The right hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford, for reasons best known to himself, and I, for reasons best known to myself, have been known to make concessions in order to secure a certain unanimity and serenity of opposition in many places in political life, including this House. The right hon. Gentleman should not beat his chest about the enormous advantage he has secured or pretend, as some hon. Members have done, that the time was well spent. I suggest that the time, if we reorganised our procedures in this House properly, could be better spent in doing the job of proper examination. Adversary politics, which the hon. Member for Rochdale abhors so much—the treatment of Back Benchers as if they were some kind of superannuated supporters' club—would take a significant knock if we were really given the opportunity for proper scrutiny.
No one could fairly call me nonpartisan or undogmatic. I do not think that there is any virtue in not having dogma and not sticking to principles in which one believes. I acknowledge the relationship of the Select Committee in the pursuit of knowledge and in the examination of public affairs—public expenditure, the nationalised industries, and science and technology. There is and altogether more productive atmosphere, and more productive work is done in the cause of public interest and democracy, in a Select Committee than in most Standing Committees, where, 1643 except on the odd occasions when one is obsessed by utter fascination, boredom and the attraction of one's constituency business are likely to rivet one's attention away from the precise business in hand. We must take a more sensible attitude to these matters.
A change like that would, in the present circumstances, be less than suitable for the Opposition. We must acknowledge that, with the narrowness of the Government's majority, the temporary incapacity of one or two of my hon. Friends is an occasion for a major Opposition assault. We are in a situation where we have to bring sick men to the House of Commons in order to go through the ludicrous business of having them nodded through the Lobby.
As soon as we start to treat membership of this House as something which begins when the oath is taken and ends when a Member departs—and we have had some exotic reasons for departure lately—and as soon as we realise that it is numbers on the Government side which count and we stop running our business on the relative fitness or sickness of Members of the House, we shall be doing ourselves and the country a considerable service. There is no advantage to anyone in jeopardising the very life of any hon. Member on either side of the House.
The right hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) has seen cause to congratulate the Leader of the Opposition for her ability to slog it out. I do not think that it has been a very intelligent approach, given the ludicrous position which exists in our business, to slog it out to try to defeat the Government. With the system that we have, the right hon. Lady should have dispatched a few willing Back Benchers to slash ministerial tyres or organise a strike of stewardesses on the Glasgow shuttle. It is wrong that the absence of a few Labour Members trapped in a traffic jam or pumping up their tyres can threaten the survival of the Government because of the ludicrous attention we need to pay to having Members on the premises.
As in any other profession, we should be entitled to a doctor's note, or a doctor's paper as we call it in South Wales, to show that a Member is incapacitated and should not be made 1644 mobile or dragged sometimes hundreds of miles to attend this House to be nodded through just to show that the Government have a majority. The sooner we do that, the sooner we shall move, struggling and kicking, into the twentieth century. We must bear that in mind when we consider the responsibility of the Opposition parties for what is happening to sick Labour Members, and I ask the Opposition to consider their position in that respect.
This is not a plea from me for the Opposition fully to restore pairing or to come to terms or anything like that. I do not think that Conservative Members have any interest in killing Labour MPs. The fact is, without any exaggeration, that there are men in this Palace today whose lives are threatened because of the need, under our idiotic system, to be here and to vote. That is not how it should be done. If that happened to any of my constituents or the constituents of any Conservative Member, we would be playing hell. But we permit it to happen to our nearest and dearest friends in the ostensible cause of sustaining a majority, and it has nothing to do with that.
The system must change. I would adopt wholesale the suggestion by the hon. Members for Rochdale and for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel) for establishing, just as my hon. Friends and Conservative Members did with the Bill to reorganise the National Health Service in 1973, what is important in a Bill, thus ensuring proper scrutiny of the subject. I hope also that there would be a much more substantial change with the adoption of Select Committee powers and procedures for the consideration of legislation, with the provision of research and administrative and assistance facilities to ensure that the job is done properly, instead of its being subject to such superficiality, fatuousness and spuriousness as meanderings round constituencies, false points of order, false interruptions and discussions around the head of a pin, all of which characterise our Committee proceedings on so many occasions. The time power argument never succeeded in beating a Government on any important issue. It works only for the Government.
We all have a vested interest in changing that system so that we remove the possibility of having nights like this at the 1645 end of every year. We are not doing our job properly when we simply exchange slang, swop speeches and make the kind of fools of ourselves which we know we are not but which the country frequently takes us for.
§ 9.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Maurice Macmillan (Farnham)
The hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) has made the strongest argument I have yet heard for keeping this place a legislative assembly and not turning it into part of the Executive, as he wishes.
In the past 25 years there have been 19 guillotines introduced by Conservatime Governments and 10 brought in by Labour Governments. However, we must take into account that the Conservatives were in office for 17 of those years and the Labour Governments for only eight. The Conservatives had more than twice as long in office and introduced slightly less than twice as many guillotines. They introduced an average of one and one-tenth guillotines per year against the Labour Party's one and a quarter. Could we therefore kindly stop this silly argument that Conservatives guillotine more Bills than Labour Governments.
All governments need guillotines. It is silly and dishonest to pretend that they do not. However, it is equally silly and dishonest not to admit that it is the right and duty of an Opposition to prevent any Government from getting a guillotine motion easily.
If a Government can get this power without losing time or sleep and without making life difficult for their supporters, that power is bound to be abused. A respected member of the Labour Party taught me that in a speech made against a Conservative guillotine motion. Still less must any Government get a cluster of guillotines easily. These motions are evidence of mismanagement of the Government's programme and a certain amount of disagreement on policies among hon. Members opposite.
The Leader of the House said that guilloines were needed for a small minority of Bills, but the fact that five have come bunched together this summer is evidence that the Government have tried to pass too much legislation. They are trying to push through the House—which accurately reflects 1646 their lack of overall support in the country—legislation for which there is not reasonable time for discussion and debate. It is no good trying to justify this by the doctrine of the mandate. No Government with only 39 per cent. of the total poll can claim a mandate for everything in their manifesto.
The hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Pavitt) said that it was the duty of the Government to carry out their programme, but he was denying the whole concept of parliamentary government and the whole basis of the freedom of Parliament. He was saying that a Government must at all costs carry out the programme on which they have embarked, regardless of the will of Parliament. I think that the hon. Member was wrong. A Government should be prepared to alter their programme so that they carry Parliament with them at all stages and can obtain a majority—not necessarily the same majority—on every piece of legislation.
The Leader of the House referred to the exceptionally strong feelings on these Bills. But who does feel so strongly about these Bills? Is it the general public, the trade unions, or a few of the more determined and extreme Soclialists, a minority of a minority?
The argument has been used that in some way a Labour Government are especially entitled to get their legislation through quickly because it represents the liberties of the great mass of the people. That is arrogant nonsense, and the Government Front Bench knows it. It may be true to say that a Labour Government have a special need for guillotines to win the consent not of the House but of powerful individuals who control the block votes at Labour Party conferences.
A Labour Government have the same right as any other Government, neither more or less, to get through controversial legislation. But as the Leader of the House said, they must carry the consent of Parliament with them at all stages.
The Secretary of State said that the Bill must go through because it has had a Second Reading. He implied that as far as possible it must go through unaltered in principle. I find that an odd doctrine. Again, it denies the right of Parliament to make alterations.
§ Mr. MacMillan
I am coming to that.
According to the account of the Secretary of State, he attempted to control the proceedings in Committee. Only minor amendments from outside representatives, such as doctors, were considered. More important, political amendments from within the Committee were not considered. He referred to the need to get through this legislation because of the feelings of National Health Service workers.
The right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) referred to the Industrial Relations Act, and it has just been mentioned by the Minister of State. It ill becomes anyone to blame the Tory Party for failing to discuss that Act. Night after night and hour after hour we trooped through the Division Lobbies because the Labour Opposition were not willing to talk about it in Committee of the whole House. After the guillotine they insisted on using the time that was available for debate to demonstrate their feelings by voting for 13 hours on end. If ever there was obstruction, that was it.
§ Mr. Ormerose—
§ Mr. Macmillan
The purpose of the series of Bills we are discussing, to which the guillotine will apply, is to appease those who purport to represent workers in the industries concerned, not to serve the interests of the nation or the people as a whole. That is what is wrong with them. That is the dilemma that the Government face.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Jenkin) said that this was typical Socialist arrogance, but it is not. It is syndicalism, not Socialism. If the Government ignore the fact that they have a minority of the votes, if they continue to ignore public opinion and if they try to use their bare majority to overcome the difficulties that they are having in Committee, thereby compressing debates on Report, whether they mean to or not, they will damage the whole fabric of Parliament and damage our credibility as a House.
It is the Leader of the House who is teaching the electorate, by his example, 1648 to treat the House with contempt. It may seem a small thing, but freedom is lost in very small steps. I believe that the liberty of the House is being curtailed by one who sought to defend it in the past. I find it a very sad occasion.
§ 9.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Eddie Loyden (Liverpool, Garston)
The right hon. Member for Farnham (Mr. Macmillan) appeared to miss the major points that have been raised in the debate. The debate has not been confined to the timetable motion but has gone beyond into how the place is run, how decisions are made and generally how the procedures of the House work. Recent happenings in the House have highlighted the necessity of deciding whether the House should continue to operate along the present lines, or whether it should grasp the nettle and realise that the activities of Parliament are tremendously important to the people of the country, many of whom would not believe it if they were told how the House operates under the guise of parliamentary procedure.
Some of the rules governing the House are like the rules which governed boxing before the Marquess of Queensberry's rules. Whoever is standing on his feet at the end can be said to be the winner. That is the way in which an advanced industrial nation conducts its affairs.
The Opposition are entitled to use the tactics and the rules that the House affords them. No one argues against that. The Opposition are entitled under the rules to use tactics to delay Government legislation. At the same time, the Government are entitled to use the tactics afforded by the rules to introduce timetable motions to expedite their business. Having regard to the state of the economy and the necessity for this legislation, the Government are correct in their procedure.
Whether the Dockwork Regulation Bill will be a panacea for all dockland's problems is arguable, but there is no doubt that we require this legislation it there is to be a dock industry in the future. Whether the Bill is perfect in form and intention is not a matter for argument today. The Government, who laid before the electorate a manifesto containing certain policies, are entitled to use the rules and tactics of the House to 1649 see that those policies are put into effect. I go so far as to say that the Government have a responsibility to use those tactics.
As a comparatively new Member of Parliament my view is that it is time the House made a proper assesssment of the way it conducts its business. Last week many hon. Members came to the House on Monday morning and saw their beds for the first time at 4 o'clock on Wednesday morning. How can we expect them to act efficiently after spending so long in the House, either in the Chamber or waiting to vote? It cannot be justified. It must affect the efficiency of Members of Parliament. Members of Parliament who leave here at 6.45 a.m. have to go to their office to deal with constituency mail, attend Standing Committees and do all the other tasks that a Member of Parliament is expected to do if he is to be effective. Anyone who believes that a Member of Parliament can be effective in conditions of that kind must think again.
The most important aspect of the debate is not the timetable motion in isolation, but whether we have reached the point when the House must examine its procedures to see whether they can be changed and be made more relevant to 1976 and to the efficient conduct of the affairs of the nation. Nowhere else, not even in the most primitive society, would we see the sort of ritual which goes on in this place when sick men are being nodded through the Lobby. It would not even happen in a small African village when the village heads were making their decisions. Yet, in this place, we still carry on this primitive ritual.
I believe that the observations by hon. Members today ought to reach the ear of the Government Front Bench. We ought to have an opportunity to debate the whole procedures of this House to ascertain whether it can be run on more effective and civilised lines and on lines relevant to the wishes of the people outside this place.
§ 9.26 p.m.
§ Mr. Leon Brittan (Cleveland and Whitby).
I do not say that there is no room for improving the procedures of this House and I do not say that an improvement of those procedures might not include a reconsideration of the cir- 1650 cumstances and manner in which guillotine motions are put forward. What I do say is that any feeling of discontent on that subject should not be an excuse for a massive abuse of the present situation such as the Government are proposing today. If there is to be any change in our procedures, it should be brought about as a result of proper consideration and not as a panic response to the Government's inadequacy in getting their Bills through.
The inadequacy of the Government's present proposals, and the disgracefulness of the present manner of trying to get their legislation through the House, is illustrated by the utterly fantastic and inescapable fact that we should now have been debating this motion for nearly two hours and considering two Bills and yet we have not heard a single word of argument in favour of guillotining the Dock Work Regulation Bill. The most that we have heard has been a not very enthusiastic reference to the Bill by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Loyden). Reference to the Bill by him were a good deal more enthusiastic when the Committee stage began. It is a measure of the importance of discussing the Bill fully that his enthusiasm has so toned down during the course of our proceedings.
It is disgraceful that we are to hear a justification of the guillotine from the Secretary of State at the winding-up stage of the debate and not before. He obviously does not expect that there is the slightest prospect of persuading the Conservative Opposition in ordinary debate of the merits of the guillotine, or he would give us an earlier chance to hear the argument.
The importance of the Bill is undeniable. It was presented, as the hon. Member for Garston hinted, as a panacea to the problems of dockland. It was quite strongly, if passionately, opposed by Conservative Members who believed that the Bill was a threat to jobs held by persons not dock workers at present. It is a sure recipe for adding to costs and inefficiency in a whole batch of industries.
When we have a situation in which the Port of London Authority is going to be losing £6 million to £7 million a 1651 year, largely because it is employing 1,250 registered dock workers at an average of £57 a week to do absolutely nothing, it reinforces the argument that the Bill involves adding that particularly infectious and virulent disease to a whole host of ports which have hitherto, mercifully, escaped from it.
There is no argument for suggesting that there has been dilatoriness on the part of the Conservative Opposition in this respect. The issues raised are complex and technical. They involve consideration of the history of an industry in which industrial dispute has been endemic, in which technological change has been rampant and in which the interests of producers and consumers have to be balanced and considered.
There is a whole host of associated matters to be looked at, such as the problems of the small ports, which are united in opposing the extension of the Dock Labour Scheme to them, of the cold storage industry, of definitions and the technical questions relating to Schedule 3. For example, what meaning should be given to the term "cargo"? There is also consideration of the safety factors in the case of the chemicals industry.
All these are not matters which have been the subject of filibustering, and the Secretary of State never suggested in Committee that they had been. They are all crucial for thousands of working people and were considered on their merits. When we put our amendments forward, what was the response? We were no filibustering Opposition. On four occasions there were tied votes in a Committee where the Government had a majority. On a very conservative estimate, there were 17 undertakings or assurances and at least one major change in the Bill as a result of our arguments.
The Government claimed that the Bill would give dockers new jobs. We argued that if that was so, it must be at the expense of the people doing those jobs now. After that argument, the Government responded, at a late stage, by putting forward amendments to ensure, they said, that those at present employed in such jobs would have the right to go on the register as dock workers even though they were not on it at the moment. There- 1652 fore, the Government said, no jobs would be at risk.
If that is so, the whole point of the Bill disappears, because if no jobs are at risk, there are no job opportunities for the dockers elsewhere in industry, and the squalid deal between the Leader of the House and Mr. Jack Jones, on which the Bill is based, is exposed as a hollow sham. The Government cannot have it both ways. The amendment put forward by the Secretary of State in this respect on his own estimate was crucial and was brought about by pressure from us.
That has been the work of the Standing Committee—detailed, complicated, controversial and crucial—and there has been no filibustering and no attempt to suggest that there has been. Indeed, so far from there being filibustering, there was in the end, admittedly after certain squalls on the way, an agreed timetable. There were no all-night sittings, although we sat in the evenings and could have sat all night if it had been thought necessary.
But none of that occurred. We never sat later than about 7.15 p.m. as a result of that agreed timetable. The Committee rose before the Whitsun Recess. That was in return for an undertaking from the Government that there would be adequate time on Report for consideration of the many matters raised in Committee, complex, technical and controversial.
But now the Government have the effrontery to say that, for a complicated, technical and controversial matter like this, on which they have had to give so many undertakings and to surrender a major point, they will give one day on Report. If that is not a parliamentary outrage, I do not know what is. All the talk by Labour Members about sick men being wheeled through and all their sentimental slobber does not alter the fact that it is the Government who are doing this in order to pass a Bill which no one wants and which will not do what they said it would do.
There is only one true reason for the guillotine motion—to race the Bill through so that its disreputable origins, history and purpose are concealed. It is a squalid little Bill which will not even achieve its desired effect. It ought not to occupy the House's time at all, 1653 but if it is to do so, it should occupy it a great deal more than one day on Report.
§ 9.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Bruce Grocott (Lichfield and Tamworth)
I shall not attempt to argue the merits of the Bills that are the subject of the timetable motion and on which we shall shortly vote. I shall deal with the circumstances in which a guillotine may arise and the justification for it. I shall do that from a particular background, having arrived in the House with, as I thought, a good theoretical knowledge of its procedures.
Before I came to the House I thought that hon. Members worked under pretty ludicrous conditions and in many respects on the basis of pretty absurd rules. That was a purely theoretical opinion. Since then I have observed the system in practice and I have come to a judgment. I am now absolutely convinced that we operate this place on the basis of ludicrous rules that make us a laughing stock to people outside and to those who take the trouble to observe our procedures.
I have now seen the interminable Committee debates. I used to take visiting parties into Committees to show them how Parliament works, but after a while I was too embarrassed to do that and, in any case, unless my visitors had adequate medicinal support, they were unable to stay awake.
I am told that the system is crucial to democracy; that we cannot have a democratic system without it. I am told that it is part of the delicate balance between Government and Opposition that rests on time. No one has explained why Second Reading debates have a fixed time—that, presumably, is a kind of guillotine—while Committee and Report stages can go on interminably. That system has always been described as the only proper way in which the Government can conduct their affairs.
We must concede that whatever debate takes place there must be a winner and a loser at the end of the debate. On most issues one cannot half win and half lose. One cannot half abolish tied cottages, half get rid of pay beds, half join the Common Market, or half execute someone. All our procedures are designed to find a winner without a physical fight 1654 and with only a verbal fight. It is unpalatable but our parliamentary system therefore rightly rests on the assumption that the winner takes all.
I have not yet had the advantage of being in opposition and I do not intend to be in that position. "Winner takes all" is an ugly phrase, but that is how the system works. If a party wins a General Election, it is the winner who takes all until the people are again consulted within five years.
There are no consolation prizes in my constituency. The candidate who comes second to me has no parliamentary rights. My constituency is one of the most marginal in Britain and the Opposition will be upset to know that I am in perfect health. But the winner in my constituency, as in others, takes all. The same applies when candidates arrive here. The party that is capable of commanding a majority wins the votes and takes all. No one suggests that because the Conservative Party won 35 per cent. of the votes it should have 35 per cent. of Cabinet posts. We operate on the basis of winners and losers, and that is a good system. I accept it and the Opposition accept it when they are the winners.
The only conceivable case for objecting to the Government's ensuring that their policy is seen through on these and the other measures that we are discussing is that somehow the present Parliament is fundamentally different and the present Government's mandate is fundamentally different from that of any other. Let us stick to discussing post-war Governments. The argument is usually that in October 1974 the Labour Party received only 39.2 per cent. of the votes at the General Election and therefore has no mandate to carry through its policies.
§ Mr. Grocott
Let us examine the records of some Governments since the war, beginning with the Conservative Government elected in 1951. They had a big percentage of the votes cast—48 per cent.—but it was lower than the Labour Party's. In 1955 the Conservatives received 49.87 per cent. in 1959 they received 49.4 per cent.; and in 1970 they received 46.4 per cent. On none of those occasions could the Government 1655 claim that they had a majority of the electorate behind them.
What magic enables the Tories to say that 39.2 per cent. is not a mandate but 46.4 per cent. is? They have repeated that proposition frequently. Let us have the figures. Let us know the rules of the parliamentary game. If after the next General Election the Conservatives are the majority party in Parliament, but on the basis of 40 per cent. of the vote, do they have a mandate? Have they a mandate if they have 43 per cent.? Let us hear exactly what the magic figure is. It is obviously not 50 per cent.
The Opposition's argument is spurious. All Conservative Members know that they have never conceded that argument when in Government, and I am sure that whoever sums up this debate will give no undertaking that if his party wins the next election on a low percentage of the vote, it will drop every controversial measure. In any case, what is a controversial measure? Is it something judged by the Opposition to be controversial? In the present Parliament is a controversial measure one to which the Tories object? If so, are we supposed to throw it out of our programme? On what basis do the Opposition speak? At the last election they received 35.8 per cent. of the votes.
Mr. David Model (Bedfordshire, South)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I thought that we were discussing the Health Services Bill and the Dock Work Regulation Bill. So far we have had one speech on the Dock Work Regulation Bill. Time is getting on. What has 40 per cent. of the population's votes to do with this?
I am not sure whether that was a point of order or an intervention. 'We are considering whether the Government are entitled to see that they carry out what they are mandated to do. That is what a guillotine motion is all about.' Everything I have said so far is entirely relevant to that. If the hon. Gentleman reads it in Hansard tomorrow, he will find it an elucidating lecture on the British constitution, from which he will benefit.
The Opposition tell us that we should throw out controversial measures because they speak for the people, yet they 1656 received 35.8 per cent. of the vote, far and away the lowest percentage vote any official Opposition in Britain have received since the war. Only one in three of the electorate backed them only a few months after they had been in office.
What was the next lowest Opposition percentage? The next lowest was in 1945, when again the Tory Government received the support of 39.8 per cent. of the electorate. Are the Conservaives saying that, on the basis of having one in three of the electorate voting for them, they can sanction any of our controversial legislation? Will they give an undertaking—
§ Mr. Grocott
After some future General Election, if the Labour Party were to get the derisory vote that the Tories received at the last election, would the hon. Lady say that we would therefore have the right to stop anything controversial that the Tory Government put forward? That is a ludicrous constitutional position to take, and the hon. Lady knows it perfectly well.
The argument about mandate is even more relevant when we consider the Opposition's right to speak. They represent one in three of the electorate. It is a derisory vote, and in absolute terms it is even worse than that. The Tories received 10½ million votes, which is far and away the fewest votes that a major party has achieved since the war. The only exception is the Tory vote in 1945, which was 9½ million, but on an electorate much smaller than we have now.
Let us have none of this nonsense about mandates and the Conservatives' right to object to all our proposals on the basis of their one in three derisory vote. In this country, whether we like it or not, the winner takes all in politics.
If Conservative Members want a system of proportional representation, let them stand up and say so. Let them make it plain that that is their objective. They do not stand for that in public as a party at the moment. Let us accept that the 1657 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.
§ 9.48 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert Boscawen (Wells)
The fact that the winner takes all in this country means that it is fundamental and essential that those who are not winners have the right to stand up for the rest of the people in the country, and to speak out and to use the parliamentary procedure to its utmost. In addition to this, the winners have to obey the parliamentary procedures. Without those two safeguards in our society we would have one society only and one Government, which is not a democracy at all. That is quite clearly what the hon. Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Mr. Grocott), as a result of his long studies of our democratic system, believes should happen.
The appalling thing about the debate is that there have been two important Bills to be discussed, quite different from each other, and only one of which has had proper discussion. Only one has been mentioned, other than very briefly, by the Secretary of State, who opened the debate. It is a travesty that we should be forced in three hours, on a guillotine motion, to speak about two major Bills which are so different from each other.
The Secretary of State made a poor speech. He gave his reasons for bringing in a guillotine for the Health Services Bill. He introduced the guillotine to remedy the incompetence and lack of determination by the Government in trying to pass the Bill. Because of that incompetence and lack of determination, the Bill was not laid before the House until five months after the Queen's Speech. After the Second Reading, the Government could not make up their minds what should be the constitution of the Committee upstairs. That wasted another week or 10 days. When the Bill went before the Committee, the Government incompetently failed to put down a proper sittings motion at the beginning of the proceedings. If they had put 1658 down such a motion saying that the Committee should sit three times a week, they could have carried the Bill. If there had been a tie, the Chairman would have given his casting vote in favour of the Government.
§ Mr. Ennals
The hon. Gentleman must know that the original sittings motion was moved after consultation with his right hon. Friend who led for the Conservative Party. That was part of an agreement.
§ Mr. Boscawen
That may be so. However, the Government would have had to accept that they would not achieve a sittings motion later because they did not have a majority in the Committee. If they had wanted, they could have held three sittings a week from the beginning if they had included that in the sittings motion.
The Health Services Bill is important as it deals with the standards of health care for private and public patients. It is not concerned with abolishing pay beds and queue-jumping. It is about standards of health care. The Bill does nothing to improve the standards of health care.
The right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) is quoted as saying that the overriding purpose of the Bill was to help build a cohesive society in Britain. That is rich. What has the right hon. Lady done to build a cohesive society in the National Health Service over the past 18 months or two years? The health service has never been in more disarray. There has never been more trouble in the National Health Service. We have never before had a situation where each part of the health service has been on strike, as has happened over the past 18 months.
The Bill may increase the likelihood of more patients wanting private care and may therefore build two standards into our Health Service. The Opposition tried in Committee to restore confidence in the health service, which has diminished over the past few months. There is a total lack of confidence among the medical profession, the nurses and ancillary workers in a future Health Service. The Opposition argued at length to restore the confidence of the medical profession and to make this a better and, much as we dislike it, a more workable Bill. We 1659 want to ensure that it works as far as is practicable.
What is required is the maximum amount of flexibility and the minimum amount of legislation for the National Health Service. It needs the maximum amount of good will and the minimum amount of instruction from above. What is needed is not hard and fast rules about pay beds or queue jumping, but a little leadership from the top—leadership which we have certainly been lacking in the Health Service.
We have before us an industrial relations problem. In earlier days we were told so often by Labour Members that industrial relations started with good management. Certainly the one thing that we have lacked in the National Health Service in the past two or three years is good management from the top, and particularly from the right hon. Lady the Member for Blackburn.
§ 9.56 p.m.
§ Mr. James Prior (Lowestoft)
I beg to move Amendment No. 7, leave out from 'B. DOCK WORK REGULATION BILL' to end of paragraph 3(2).
The motion makes history because it guillotines two Bills in one motion. This is the first time that this has been done under Standing Order No. 44. It may be that this can be done under the rules, but tonight's debate has brought out only too clearly that this is a totally unsatisfactory way for the House of Commons to conduct its business. It cannot possibly be right that the debate on a guillotine motion on two major Bills was opened by a Minister of the Crown who talked entirely about one of the Bills under discussion and is to be wound up by another Minister who will talk entirely about another Bill.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Farnham (Mr. Macmillan) said in an extremely powerful speech, there are times when the Government need to implement a guillotine. As a former Leader of the House, I once had to introduce a guillotine on a counter-inflation measure before it went to Committee. That measure was needed urgently by the Government and we took the guillotine motion straight away. On that occasion, the synthetic wrath of the 1660 then Opposition was so muted that there were only three Back Bench speeches, and certainly the debate on the motion did not last for three hours. However, I cannot remember a guillotine that has aroused as much real anger as have these motions today.
That anger relates not so much to the imposition of a timetable, since we all accept that on occasions that has to happen, as to the manner in which it has been done. There has not even been separate discussion of each Bill. Why should we not have had a discussion lasting three hours on each Bill? It would have cost the Government another six hours of their time. Surely, when we see the way in which this debate has been conducted we cannot pretend that the present situation is satisfactory.
The second cause of our anger is the incompetence of the Government in getting into this position. They have tried to put too much legislation through the House. The right place for a guillotine to be applied is in the Legislation Committee of the Cabinet. If that were to happen, the House would not be bombarded with the legislation that we have seen recently. No major Bill should be introduced into the House after the end of February and that should be made clear. That is what should happen if the Government are to handle their legislative programme in a proper manner.
A further cause for anger on the part of the Opposition is the procedure as to the allocation of time. To suggest only one day for discussion of the Dock Work Regulation Bill is an insult to hon. Members who undertook so much work in Committee and also to those outside the House who have taken such a deep interest in the Bill. The Government have shown no inkling of understanding the effect of this legislation on people outside the House.
§ It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.