HC Deb 24 May 1988 vol 134 cc201-4 3.45 pm
The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. John Wakeham)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a short business statement. The business for the remainder of the week will now be as follows:

WEDNESDAY 25 MAY—Motion for the spring Adjournment.

Timetable motion on the Firearms (Amendment) Bill, followed by completion of remaining stages of the Firearms (Amendment) Bill.

THURSDAY 26 MAY—Motion to take note of the White Paper on developments in the European Community July-December 1987 (Cm 336).

Motion on the Lord Chancellor's salary order.

FRIDAY 27 MAY—Adjournment motions.

Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras)

What we have just heard must be the most extraordinary business statement of the decade. The Government, with a majority of 100, are proposing to guillotine their own Members rather than the Opposition. We are used to Tory politicians shooting themselves in the foot, but the Tory Front Bench is now proposing to shoot Tory Back Benchers in the back—which is a novel use of the guillotine.

The guillotine is directed not at the Opposition, who broadly support the objects of the Firearms (Amendment) Bill, but at Tory Back Benchers, who do not. The Labour party will oppose the guillotine, not because it is opposed to effective gun laws but because we are in favour of fair and effective gun laws.

The Bill was ill thought out and badly drafted from the start. It has since been heavily amended by the Government. The last straw was the sudden extension of the Bill to cover Northern Ireland. Whatever views hon. Members may have about Northern Ireland, few could fail to recognise that the use of firearms is a bigger problem in Northern Ireland than it is in England, Scotland and Wales. This slipshod Bill is to be extended to Northern Ireland as an afterthought. We believe that that is no way to treat the House, and we certainly do not believe that it is the way to treat the terrible problems of Northern Ireland.

Mr. Wakeham

I hope that the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) will do better tomorrow, should he catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, than he has done today, and will address himself to the fact that when the Bill was introduced the Opposition wanted it to be implemented speedily. I regret the necessity to introduce the timetable motion. The Bill has been scrutinised carefully in Standing Committee, and I have no doubt that the right course is to allow the House to reach a decision on it in an orderly manner and at a reasonable time of day.

Mr. Jerry Wiggin (Weston-super-Mare)

How often has it been the practice to guillotine a Bill halfway through its Report stage? Will my right hon. Friend explain why, with many hours available to debate the Bill last night, he drew stumps at 2.20 am? Could it be that the supporters of the Government were as irritated by the Government's activities as I am?

Mr. Wakeham

It is rare that a guillotine motion is introduced on Report, and I regret that it is necessary. As I said to the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, it is right for the House to reach a decision in an orderly manner and at a reasonable time of day, and that is why we adjourned the debate when we did.

Mr. James Molyneaux (Lagan Valley)

Does the Leader of the House agree that a great deal of time would have been saved yesterday if the Bill had been applied to Northern Ireland from the beginning instead of in the most unorthodox fashion after the Committee had finished its deliberations? Is there not a lesson there for the future? Does the right hon. Gentleman further agree that, if the timetable motion is approved by the House tomorrow, it is inevitable that many of the issues raised in this ill-thought-out Bill will never be debated, never mind voted upon? Will he assure the House that he will prevail upon his Home Office colleagues to show a little more sympathy for and understanding of the issues that lie behind the new clauses and amendments that may not be reached?

Mrs. Wakeham

I shall table the motion later today, but there will be a total of five hours for the guillotine motion and the remaining clauses. That is an adequate amount of time and I am sure that Ministers will be as helpful as they can in reply to any constructive points that are made.

Mr. Eric Forth (Mid-Worcestershire)

Will my right hon. Friend give weight to the arguments from both sides of the House in proportion to the number of hon. Members who were here last night? Does he recall that last night, late at night, more than 200 hon. Members supported my right hon. Friend and the Government while 10 were raising protests? Will he bear that in mind when listening to the empty words from Opposition Members—and, indeed, from my hon. Friends sitting behind me?

Mr. Wakeham

I am in favour of an orderly debate at the proper time of day, and that is what I am seeking to achieve. The points that my hon. Friend correctly makes are an added incentive to believe that we are doing the right thing.

Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland)

Will the Leader of the House accept from me, as one who was here at 20 past 2 this morning, that it must be of considerable concern to those who believe in true democracy that whenever the Government run into opposition, particularly on their own side, they either wake up their dormant majority in the other place or use their majority in this place to stifle debate? How rare an event is it for a timetable motion to be brought in part way through a Report stage? Does the Leader of the House propose to introduce a timetable motion on any other legislation that has completed its Committee stage without such a motion?

Mr. Wakeham

I have no desire to bring in any timetable motions. If reasonable timetabling can be done voluntarily, so much the better. The hon. Gentleman cannot have it both ways. If the Government are defeated on an amendment in the other place, Opposition Members call it a triumph for democracy; if the Government succeed, they call it an abuse of power.

Mr. Jerry Hayes (Harlow)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, apart from the rank hypocrisy of the Opposition parties, many Conservative Members find it mildly farcical that here we have a Government with a majority of over 100 and a Bill which was given its Second Reading without a vote, and yet the business managers seem to be held to ransom by 10 hon. Members, mostly on the Conservative Benches? Those of us who wish to see our wives and children from time to time are rather annoyed.

Mr. Wakeham

I hear what my hon. Friend says and I have no doubt that he will support us in the Lobby tomorrow.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

Do we detect here a further erosion in Back-Benchers' rights because there is now less time for the motion for the spring Adjournment? In order to save time, will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement on the article in The Guardian last Friday when the Prime Minister's principal private secretary—

Mr. Speaker

Order. With any luck, the hon. Gentleman may be able to raise that in the debate on the Adjournment motion.

Mr. Dalyell


Mr. Speaker

No, I do not want to hear it now. I have given the hon. Gentleman a very good tip.

Mr. Michael Colvin (Romsey and Waterside)

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the anxiety on the Conservative Benches that the Government are changing the business of the House at very short notice, which is extremely inconvenient for many hon. Members, simply to get themselves out of the mess into which they have got themselves? Mr. Speaker, my question may relate to you as much as to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, because it concerns the selection and grouping of the amendments that we shall consider if the guillotine motion is carried. Will my right hon. Friend do his best to ensure that the three key issues of the consultative committee, self-loading rifles and the integral magazine of five to eight rounds and compensation are grouped in such a way as to give the House an opportunity to vote on them, because they go to the heart of the Bill?

Mr. Wakeham

I shall be tabling the guillotine motion later today and the Business Committee, if set up, will determine the way in which the debates take place. We shall do our best to meet the wishes of the House.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I remind the House that we have a very busy day ahead of us. I shall call the three hon. Gentlemen who have been rising, but their remarks must be related to the business for tomorrow.

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)

In between his attempts to deal with his problems on the Firearms (Amendment) Bill, has the Leader of the House had an opportunity to talk to the Secretary of State for Social Services—

Mr. Speaker

Order. Not today; perhaps tomorrow.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

Much though we may disagree with the views of the hon. Member for Weston-super--Mare (Mr. Wiggin), many Back Benchers will admire the resolute campaign that he is mounting in pursuit of his interests. We hope that nothing nasty will happen to him because of that.

Mr. Michael Foot (Blaenau Gwent)

Speak for yourself.

Mr. Banks

I am sure that I speak for all hon. Members on both sides of the House when I say that I hope that the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare will not be discovered floating upside down in a local canal. Nevertheless, will the Leader of the House tell us when we will be able to debate the question of short speeches because that is a very important matter, and it might help him?

Mr. Wakeham

Far from anything nasty happening to my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin), something very pleasant has happened to him. I have taken the speeches that he might have made if he had caught your eye, Mr. Speaker, from the middle of the night, when many people would not have heard them, and I have put them on in prime time instead. I do not see how he has the slightest ground for complaint.

I recognise that there is a need for a debate on the subject of short speeches, but I am afraid that it is not possible to take the matter correctly very late at night. There is limited time before Whitsun, but I hope to deal with the matter as soon as I can after Whitsun.

Mr. Greville Janner (Leicester, West)

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Home Secretary has announced that he is not prepared to provide any extra policemen for the county of Leicestershire—

Mr. Speaker


Mr. Janner


Mr. Speaker

No. That has nothing to do with the change of business.

Mr. Janner


Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman must not argue with the Chair. This is a business statement dealing with the change in tomorrow's business.