Motion made, and Question proposed,
That, at this day's sitting, notwithstanding the provisions of Standing Order No. 3 (Exempted business) and Standing Order No. 4 (Prayers against statutory instruments, &c., (negative procedure)), if proceedings on any Motions relating to Social Security and to Housing in the name of a Minister of the Crown or on the Motion in the name of Mr. Michael Foot relating to the Social Security (General Benefit) Amendment Regulations 1983 have not been disposed of before Ten o'clock, Mr. Speaker shall at that hour put forthwith any Questions already proposed from the Chair and on such of the said Motions as may then be moved; and thereafter Mr. Speaker shall at half-past Eleven o'clock put any Questions already proposed from the Chair and on such of the remaining Motions relating to Social Security and Housing as may then be moved.—[Mr. Douglas Hogg.]
§ Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish)
I must protest at the motion. The Government are treating all those who are dependent on benefits with very little regard —in a most cavalier manner.
There are now 1.83 million children who live in households that are dependent on supplementary benefit; there are over 9 million pensioners who are dependent on the benefits involved in the regulations; there are between 3 million and 4 million unemployed, and a very large number of sick and disabled people. All those people will be having their income for the next 12 months decided on the basis of the regulations.
The motion will ensure that 14 detailed and highly complex sets of regulations will be debated together and completed in under six hours. Having tabled such a motion, the Government should not have introduced today four statements which have taken over two hours of the time of the House.
I would not complain if the Front Benches had made a deal on the amount of time for debate on the regulations, but I do not believe that there can have been any agreement that the first two hours of the time available should be taken by statements. The Government appear to have managed today's business deliberately to ensure that the vital question of benefits for some of the less well-off in our society will get scant time for debate and will, moreover, be debated when the press will take little interest in it. The Government have already given the press four major stories, and we have reached the time when first editions start to go to bed. The Government have so managed the business as to deny the people who live on benefit the opportunity to have their issues and problems raised in prime time in the House.
Justice would be served if the Opposition were to divide the House against the business motion. The problem is that that would take 15 minutes and reduce further the time available for debate. Therefore, I rest my case by protesting at what I believe to be disgraceful management by the Government.
§ The Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. John Biffen)
The hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) is an assiduous champion of the cause of social security beneficiaries and I can well understand his disappointment at the way in which matters have proceeded today. I assure him that we all live to some extent in a world of fantasy, particularly in July. One of the most acute forms of fantasy would be to assume that the statements were masterminded and orchestrated solely by myself. Had any of those 1225 statements not been proceeded with or been delayed, there would have been so much resentment in the House that our procedures would have been very much more inconvenienced than they are.
I ask the hon. Gentleman to accept that in all such matters it is a question of balancing the conflicting interests of the House. I accept at once that valuable time has already been taken at the expense of a most important subject, but we can best atone for it by proceeding at once to deal with the orders.
§ Question put and agreed to.